UNCF Mourns Passing of Thomas W. Cole, Jr., Clark Atlanta University’s First President

UNCF joins President George T. French, Jr., Ph.D., and the entire UNCF-member Clark Atlanta University community in mourning the loss of our friend, colleague and founding president, Thomas W. Cole, Jr., Ph.D.

In a statement, Dr. French described Cole as “a giant among the landscape of American higher education leaders and a celebrated colleague, particularly among the historically Black colleges and university community and the many federal agencies that supported the sciences. President Cole was a giant of a man, who will be cherished and forever distinguished.” He served as chairman of UNCF’s Member Presidents.

Thomas Winston Cole, Jr., was born the second of four children to Eva and Thomas W. Cole, Sr., on Jan. 11. 1941 in Vernon, Texas. The Cole family moved to Marshall, Texas, where his father was appointed president of UNCF-member Wiley University from 1958 to 1971. During his childhood, Cole attended public school and was an active Eagle Scout.

Cole graduated from high school in 1958 and attended Wiley University where he was active in the Kappa Chi and Alpha Kappa Mu Honor societies. Graduating summa cum laude from Wiley University in 1961, Cole received his bachelor’s degree and the Southern Regional Fellowship. Cole attended the University of Chicago and earned his doctorate degree in organic chemistry in 1966.
Clark Atlanta University seal
Cole began his professional career in 1966 as an assistant professor at the Atlanta University Center, in Atlanta, Georgia. During his tenure, Cole would serve as chairman of the department of chemistry between 1970 and 1979; the Fuller E. Calloway Professor of Chemistry between 1969 and 1979; chair of the Atlanta University Center chemistry department; and provost and vice president for Academic Affairs between 1979 and 1982.

Cole also worked as a research scientist for Procter & Gamble and the Celanese Fibers Co. From 1982 to 1986, Cole served as the eighth president of West Virginia State University (WVSU). During his administration he made several organizational changes in the institution creating new academic divisions and establishing a planning and advancement unit. Cole left West Virginia State in 1986 to become chancellor of the former West Virginia Board of Regents. The Cole Complex on WVSU’s campus is named for him.

Cole returned to Atlanta to accept a position as president of Clark College in 1988 and led the oversight and planning for the consolidation of Clark College and Atlanta University. Cole served simultaneously as president of both institutions during the 1988-1989 academic years until his appointment as President of Clark Atlanta University in 1989. Cole continued to serve as president until 2002.

After retirement, Cole lived in Atlanta with his wife Judge Brenda Cole.