I’ve always said the best thing about working at TFAS is the people. This includes my co-workers, our alumni, benefactors, volunteers and the many people who make up the TFAS family.
We learned recently of the passing of an esteemed member of that family, Rich Thomas. Rich served as the chair of our Award for Excellence in Economic Reporting selection committee, and was an active member of our Journalism + Communications program Board of Visitors, where he advised on the program’s curriculum and direction for more than 17 years.
A Detroit native, Rich graduated from the University of Michigan. After serving in the U.S. Army, he began his journalism career with Associated Press and New York Post before starting as a business reporter at Newsweek in its New York bureau in 1963. He worked as the chief economic correspondent from 1963 until his retirement in 2007.
It was evident to anyone who knew Rich that he loved journalism. He had deep knowledge of history, politics and economic policy. As his obituary stated, he “… wove his acquired knowledge of facts and figures – both broad and minute – into theories and views of our country often departing from conventional wisdom. He was rarely without an opinion to share to the delight of some and dismay of others.”
The economic reporting award had special meaning to Rich because he realized how few publications did in-depth economic reporting, and he wished to recognize those that did. Because Rich was the chair and senior judge of our economic journalism award contest, I had the opportunity to work closely with him for over a decade.
I have fond memories of meeting with Rich when he would come to my office to go through the entries to choose the top submissions. Rich relished reading and critiquing the applications. He recognized and delighted in good journalism.
TFAS Journalism Professor Richard Benedetto recalled Rich as a “hard-working and valued colleague on the TFAS Journalism + Communications board. Always a gentleman, courtly in his manner and dressed in the style of a country squire, one would never guess he was a top-flight reporter – but he was. I will miss him.”
Another Journalism + Communications board member, Professor Mark Grabowski from Adelphi University, said Rich “was a very sweet man and full of wisdom. He really espoused the values of TFAS and cared deeply about the state of the media — and America. They don’t make journalists like him anymore, alas.”
TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 tells me it was always his pleasure to talk with Rich and he thinks fondly on their conversations on economics – especially the work of Joseph Schumpeter, Estonia (where Rich’s late wife was from), or journalism.
“He was thoughtful, good humored and intellectually curious,” Roger said. “I’ll miss him.”
On a more personal level, I was always struck by Rich’s kindness. He always had a kind word to say and always encouraged me to “keep up the good work.” During our Board of Visitors dinner meetings, Rich always had something interesting to say, and at the end of the evening he always insisted on helping with the cleanup.
Rich Thomas’s legacy continues through TFAS and its ongoing commitment to economic education for journalism students.