Dr. William (Bill) Edwin Thomas, 84, of North Little Rock, passed away on August 28, 2019. Bill was born in Cairo, Illinois. He was preceded in death by his parents, William and Claudia Thomas, two sisters, Anita Perry and Shirley Thomas, and one brother, Norman Thomas.
He is survived by his wife, Majoice Thomas; children, Anjanette Brooks (Thurman), to this union was born two daughters, Jordyn and Jessica Brooks; Marcus Thomas (Erina), to this union was born two sons, Joshua and Brandon Thomas; Joyce Johnson (Ron); Sharon Thomas; Billy Thomas.
Bill served his country as a Non-Commissioned Officer in the United States Air Force for almost ten years and upon being honorably discharged served in the Reserves for another 6 years.
After being discharged from his military duties, Bill enrolled in Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL where he received his BS Degree in Elementary Education. Two years later, Bill received his MSE in Administration from Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. Not being content to stop with these two degrees, Bill completed his Doctorate (PhD) three years later in Educational Administration at Purdue University. Bill was a strong advocate of education and went on to complete Post Doctoral Studies at Harvard Graduate School in Cambridge, MA.
Bill was a strong believer and lived his faith. He was active in his church, Agape Church, having served as a Life Group leader for six years and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Agape College for ten years. In addition, Bill attended Agape Layman’s School and fulfilled the requirements to be awarded an Agape College Diploma.
Bill’s long and illustrious career in education began in 1967 as an elementary Math and Science teacher in Gary, IN. He encouraged students to have a “can do” attitude about everything they attempted. After completing his Masters Degree, Bill left the elementary classroom and served as an Administrative Assistant to the Dean in the School of Humanities at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. It was there he established a mentoring program for underachieving students. Being a life long learner, Bill was not content to stop with the Masters Degree. Upon receiving his PhD. in 1972, Bill left Purdue to become the first Director of Black Studies at DePauw University in Greencastle, IN. Because of his efforts, a Black Cultural Center was established on the campus. After one more “tour of service” at Purdue University as Director of Special Academic Services, Dr. Thomas left the higher education arena and began an equally long and productive career in the public school setting, having returned to his hometown of Cairo, IL to serve as Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent. He planned and implemented many curriculum programs and community relations programs.
One of the many notable achievements of Dr. Thomas was being appointed the first Black Superintendent of Schools in Carbondale, IL. He labored diligently to facilitate and resolve serious morale problems in the district and community. In 1987, one of the largest public school systems in the US beckoned him— the New Orleans Public School District in Louisiana. He served as Area Superintendent for four years, developing and implementing innovative programs such as distance and satellite learning in Geography, Japanese, and Statistics.
In 1991, Dr. Thomas once again made history: he was appointed the first Black Superintendent of the Greenville Public School District, Greenville, MS. He was instrumental in successfully leading the district through a serious fiscal crisis.
Philander Smith College, Little Rock, AR, was in need of a Dean of Academic Affairs. So in 1995, Dr. Thomas took the reins and guided and coordinated the college in receiving accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. During his tenure, he was able to establish many successful programs, including a partnership with the Little Rock School District for an after-school tutoring and mentoring program for homeless students.
After leaving Philander Smith College, Dr. Thomas, became Chief Academic Officer of the Altheimer Unified School District and later led the district as Superintendent until 2006. Due to aggressive measures to turn around a poorly performing district, Dr. Thomas was able to lift the district out of Academic Distress.
For a very short period of time (about 18 months), Dr. Thomas retired. However, he reentered the workforce from 2008-2013. The Arkansas Juvenile Assessment and Treatment Center was the beneficiary of Dr. Thomas’ strong leadership skills, his ability to develop people, his years of experience, and his uncanny knack to get young people to believe in themselves. However, in February 2013, Dr. Thomas did retire and enjoyed his “just resting and relaxing” status until the Master called him home on August 28, 2019.
In addition to his immediate family, Bill leaves to mourn his passing four nieces and nephews, eighteen cousins, and numerous other extended family members. Bill will be remembered by many, many long time friends, former co-workers, associates, students and others whose lives he may have impacted along the way.
Visitation will be from 6-8 p.m., Thursday, September 5, 2019 at Roller-Owens Funeral Home, 5509 John F. Kennedy Blvd, North Little Rock, Arkansas 72116. Funeral Services will be at 10:00 a.m., Friday, September 6, 2019 at Agape Church, 701 Napa Valley Drive, Little Rock, Arkansas 72211. Burial, with military honors, will be at 1:00 p.m., following the funeral, in the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery, North Little Rock, Arkansas.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Agape Church Youth Ministry in remembrance of Dr. Thomas.