Faculty Hall of Fame
Dr. David Thomas, Geology
The late Dr. David Thomas made a career of studying and sharing observations about the changes that occurred to the Earth over thousands or even millions of years, but his teaching made many immediate changes in the lives of his students.
A professor and former chair of the Earth Sciences Department, he often led his students on field trips to examine lower Paleozoic fossils throughout Upstate New York. He also took some students, including William Precht ’79, to study underwater fossils along the coast of Jamaica during spring break (see related story).
“He was my undergraduate advisor, mentor and ultimately, adult-long—45-plus years—friend,” Precht said. “He changed my life. I do what I do today because of him!”
Another former student Jon Fox ’88, who is now the owner and principal geologist with Fox Professional Geology LLC in Syracuse and a visiting assistant professor in the Atmospheric and Geological Sciences Department at SUNY Oswego, said Dr. Thomas was also instrumental in shaping his career.
“I was initially matriculated as a meteorology major, and I took physical geology with Dave as a cognate course,” Fox said. “I knew within two weeks of taking this course with Dave that I was going to switch my major to geology, and I did so that same semester. Dave was a very pragmatic teacher; he had high expectations of his students, which drove us to do well in his and other courses.”
Fox said Dr. Thomas wrote him a letter of recommendation to graduate school and invited him back to speak to geology students in 2005 so he could share his practical experience as a working geologist with students.
Dr. Thomas also inspired students to be broadminded learners.
“Dave Thomas opened my eyes to evolutionary theory and the elegant writings from Charles Darwin to Stephen Jay Gould,” said former student David Spader ’79, who is senior vice president of operations and safety at Environmental and Remediation Financial Services. “Although I did not pursue this branch of geology, it remains as a favorite topic of interest and I am forever grateful to Dr. Thomas for the evolution and diversification of my geological education.”
Before coming to SUNY Oswego in 1970, Dr. Thomas, a native of Welland, Ontario, Canada, studied geology at the University of Western Ontario and earned a doctoral degree at SUNY Binghamton, where he met his wife and fellow scientist, Laurie. Together, they enjoyed many geological field trips in the U.S. and Caribbean and both went on to work at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., before becoming teachers. His thesis work focused on tertiary fossils of the Colombian peninsula in South America.
During his tenure at Oswego, he became chair of the department, earned a SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and served as acting dean of Admissions for the university.
After retiring in 2005, he remained connected to the earth and ran a small Christmas tree farm in Hannibal with his family. He served a term as president of the state Christmas Tree Growers Association. A father of two sons, Adrian and Drew ’96, and a daughter, Allison, he also served a term as president of the Laker Swim Club, for which his children swam.
When alumni heard about Dr. Thomas’ passing on Sept. 3, 2022, several shared the impact he had on their lives with each other, the university and his family.
“The SUNY Oswego community lost a great leader,” Precht said. “I will be grateful forever to Dave for introducing me to my career and my passion.”