July 19, 2004
Eric Thomas was always there to offer a helping
By Ken Doctor
Those of us lucky enough to have known Eric Thomas remember the same
"In many now-unseen ways ... Eric, a proud Banana
Slug, will be with us as we work together to push forward his
Alumni Council president
The first time you met Eric, you got a sense of the man, and it was
sense that would always hold true. Hed offer his large, warm hand
and his broad smile. Hed welcome you. As we would later find out,
he would not only offer his friendship, he received it warmly in return.
Thats who Eric always was, a guy who offered a helping hand to
whoever needed it. His hand always seemed to be out there. A helping
hand to his fellow alumni councilors. A helping hand to would-be students,
unsure about moving away from home to a campus in the redwoods. A helping
hand to chancellors and UC presidents with whom he worked in his leadership
roles. His hand touched so many just on or involved with our campus
that many of us who attended his memorial services in Sacramento were
amazed to learn that his helping hand extended in many directions away
from UCSC as well. Where he found the time well never know.
Just in the last month or so, Id seen Eric three times. The last
time involved the typical Eric trip to Santa Cruz. Hed left his
very involving job as early as he could, at the State Treasurers
office in Sacramento, with his wife, Leilani (Oakes '84). He couldnt
miss M.R.C. Greenwoods going-away party at the Cocoanut Grove.
So he and Leilani braved the freeway traffic, back and forth in a single
night, staying at the evenings conclusion to chat with friends.
He burned up those roads so frequently, its too bad he couldnt
get frequent-flier miles.
In late May, he once again hosted our Legislative Day UCSC dinner in
Sacramento, in which we pulled together UC funding advocates. This year,
we didnt ask him to perform his magic tricks--he found time for
this amateur pursuit as well. After dinner, Eric, Carolyn Christopherson,
our alumni association executive director, Dom Siababa, the alumni councils
executive vice-president, returned to the hotel bar. Our topic until
midnight: how to push forward alumni initiatives and the campus as a
whole over the next couple of years.
Finally, we were lucky enough to have Eric join us at our alumni council
executive retreat, at my house.
We joked at the retreat that we couldnt imagine next year, when
Eric was scheduled to finally leave the alumni council after most of
a decade of work. We had no idea how soon wed have to do the imagining.
As past president of the alumni council--giving me an extremely tough
act to follow--Eric worked just as hard for the campus as he had as
president. Among his few weaknesses was his inability to say, no.
But then again, that made it so hard for anyone to say no
to Eric, and we all profited from his UCSC advocacy.
As a leader Eric was emblematic of UCSC. Were such a young campus,
in physical age and in spirit, that Eric is the first person to have
served as alumni council president and passed away. He embraced what
many of us alums have taken from our UCSC experience: 1) make the world
a better place one small act at a time, and 2) have a good time doing
He cared about so many things, improving excellence, scholarship aid,
outreach and diversity. Eric believed, with his whole being, in the
power of education. We talked about how education had made a difference
in his parents lives and how intent he was that it would make
a difference in the lives of his children, Tiger and Imani.
He cared about all students, and how the deserving students of Californias
tomorrow could be helped to get the education they wanted and the state
needed. And he cared particularly about advancing African-American students
at Santa Cruz. So Eric and several of his fellow alums founded the whimsically
named, seriously conceived, Black Escargot, for African-American alumni.
Like many things he worked on, it survives him in good shape.
As I got ready to succeed Eric as president, he offered his helping
hand in many ways. One conversation that resonated over the last week
was about privilege. He told me what a privilege it had been for him
to serve as alumni council president, to serve on the Alumni Associations
of the University of California (the group on which all UC campus alumni
presidents sit), to work with chancellors, professors, staff and students.
He talked about how much he learned and how lucky he felt to get the
Knowing Eric, you knew the words rang true.
In his name, well carry on our work. Those of us privileged enough
to know Eric will carry him with us. And for the wider community that
didnt get the chance, or hasnt yet arrived on campus, were
planning on honoring him in a couple of ways.
Working with Leilani , weve launched the Eric Thomas Memorial
Scholarship Fund, which will fit under the Alumni Association Scholarship
Fund umbrella. Second, a small group from the Alumni Council is working
with the Oakes leadership to site a named bench at Oakes, his favorite
campus location. We can picture it overlooking the bay, and some will
remember the young Eric as an early-80s student, jammin
with his friends at a nearby spot.
In many now-unseen ways, though, I trust, Eric, a proud Banana
Slug, will be with us as we work together to push forward his favorite
Fiat lux, Eric.
Ken Doctor is the current president of the Alumni Council. Contributions
to the Eric Thomas Memorial Scholarship Fund, may be made out to UCSC
Foundation, and sent to the attention of Jennifer
Wood, Director of Development, Annual Fund and Colleges, Carriage
House, Santa Cruz, CA 95064
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