Former Clark Atlanta University and West Virginia State University President Dr. Thomas W. Cole, Jr. has sadly passed away. Get the full story from staff at FOX 5 Atlanta below.

Dr. Thomas W. Cole, Jr., who oversaw the consolidation of the two higher learning institutions in the late 1980s that would become Clark Atlanta University died Thursday. He was 81.

Cole was born on January 11, 1941, in Vernon, Texas, the second of four children to Eva and Thomas W. Cole Sr. 

While attending public school during his childhood, he watched and was mentored by his father who was President of Wiley College from 1958 to 1971. Cole would become an Eagle Scout and graduated from high school in 1958, He then attended Wiley College where was active in the Kappa Chi and Alpha Kappa Mu Honor societies.

Cole would graduate summa cum laude in 1961, receiving a Bachelor’s of Science and the Southern Regional Fellowship. He then attended the University of Chicago where earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1966.

Dr. Cole would then head to Atlanta in 1966 after accepting an assistant professor position at Atlanta University Center. He would rise the rinks during his tenure there. From 1970 through 1979, Cole served as the chemistry department chair. From 1969 through 1979, he served as the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Chemistry, and in 1979 he was named Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs until 1982.

“President Cole was a giant among the landscape of American Higher Education leaders and a celebrated colleague, particularly among the Historically Black College and University community and the many federal agencies that supported the sciences,” said Clark Atlanta University President George T. French Jr. 

He served as the President of West Virginia State University from 1982 until 1986 and subsequently was appointed Chancellor of the West Virginia Board of Regents, one of four African Americans to lead a state system of public higher education at the time

“Dr. Cole was a true leader in higher education and left a lasting legacy at a number of institutions, including West Virginia State University, that has impacted generations of students,” said WVSU President Ericke Cage. “The thoughts and prayers of the entire Yellow Jacket family go out to his wife, Judge Brenda Cole, and the entire Cole family at this difficult time.”

Dr. Cole would be appointed president of both Atlanta University and Clark College in 1987, overseeing the institutions simultaneously and readying them for consolidation. He would ten serve as the Founding President of Clark Atlanta University in 1988.

During his tenure as president of Clark Atlanta University, President Cole launched phase one of the institution’s first Capital Campaign (The University for A New Day Campaign). The effort exceeded its $9 million goal, raising $11.5 million. Dr. Cole also served as the Chairman of the United Negro College Fund member presidents.

Of Dr. Cole, Clark Atlanta University President French wrote:

“His scholarship, leadership, vision, and strategic positioning propelled CAU into the elite ranks among U.S. Comprehensive, Doctoral Universities, which was noted in a Chronicle of Higher Education front-page article titled, The Remarkable Rise of Clark Atlanta University.

“President Cole profoundly loved Clark Atlanta University. His deep appreciation for the entire CAU family was felt by all, including faculty, staff, and most importantly, the students. He was a students’ president. He knew students by name, and every decision he made was led with the best interest of the students and the university in mind.”

Dr. Cole would step down and retire from his post in 2002.

He is survived by his wife Brenda H. Cole, a Fulton County State Court judge, and their two children, Kelley S. Cole and Thomas Winston Cole, III.

“President Cole was a giant of a man, who will be cherished and forever distinguished. Today, Dr. Bacon French and I embrace Judge Brenda Cole and family during this difficult time. President Cole was friend and confidant to our family for which we will forever be grateful,” wrote President French.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. on Monday, April 25 at Cascade United Methodist Church. Internment details will be announced in the next few days.

The family asks in lieu of flowers that donations be made to the Thomas W. Cole Jr., Scholarship Fund at Clark Atlanta University.