Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | J. Thomas "Tom" West

Professor Tom West helped build Eckerd College, then devoted his life to it

ST. PETERSBURG — Their dream was to build a liberal arts college where none stood before, to teach the most visionary curriculum in the nation. Professors risked giving up tenure at other schools to make Florida Presbyterian College a reality.

They needed just one more element to make it work: students.

So J. Thomas "Tom" West hit the road in 1959, barnstorming across the state, knocking on doors, persuading students to come to a school that had no tradition, no accreditation, no campus.

"In retrospect he laughed because he said he had never done anything like this," said Grover C. Wrenn, 67, one of the founding students. "And yet the fate of the college in many respects was in his hands."

Professor Tom West succeeded, of course. There were 155 students in that first freshman class. He would go on to devote half a century to what would become Eckerd College.

Mr. West died March 13 after a long fight with cancer. He was 84.

His name is writ large throughout the history of the college, which changed its name after Jack Eckerd's $10 million donation in 1971.

Mr. West was the first director of admissions, first dean of men and first director of counseling. He helped establish disciplines in psychology and human development. He started the Program for Experienced Learners and was its longest-serving professor. He received the Robert A. Staub Distinguished Teaching Award and last year was awarded a doctor of humane letters, honoris causa.

Mr. West was man of many facets: a veteran of the Army Air Corps in World War II; director of mental health education for Tennessee; an activist for Tibet; and a tennis coach. And at Eckerd, a pioneer.

"He was devoted to it," said Wrenn, vice chairman of the college's board of trustees, "and he was devoted to the students."

Mr. West was a young father then, the first of his four children having just been born. His son's Nov. 22, 1959, baptism was the college's very first religious service, conducted by founding president William Kadel.

But a college needs students. So it gave Mr. West an old, light blue Ford to go find them. "We didn't see him very much that year," said his former wife, Shirley "Ann" West, 74. "But he was excited at being on the cutting edge here, of starting a new college."

At churches and high schools and homes, he pitched the "daring, different, and innovative" new college overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The founders' creative vision had Newsweek and Time dub the college the "little Princeton of the South."

And Mr. West relished that he helped make it all happen.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be at the beginning of something very exciting and very important," he told the St. Petersburg Times in 1989. "It was mostly going on a dream."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

>>Biography

J. Thomas
"Tom" West

Born:
Nov. 19, 1925.

Died: March 13, 2010.

Survivors: Sons James Frazier West and Mark Thomas West; daughters Julia Kathryn West and Wendi Elizabeth West; and grandchildren Julia Nichole Bower, Nathan Thomas West.

Service: 11 a.m. April 10, Fox Hall, Eckerd College.

Professor Tom West helped build Eckerd College, then devoted his life to it 03/18/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 19, 2010 11:43am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. A Time magazine with Trump on the cover hangs in his golf clubs. It's fake

    National

    The framed copy of Time magazine was hung up in at least four of President Trump's golf clubs, from South Florida to Scotland. Filling the entire cover was a photo of Donald Trump.

    A framed copy of Time magazine, dated March 1, 2009, that hangs in at least four of President Donald Trump's golf clubs, from South Florida to Scotland, is fake. There was no March 1, 2009, issue of Time. The real March 2, 2009, issue of Time featured actor Kate Winslet on the cover. But the issue makes no mention of Trump. [Left, Time; right, Angel Valentin for the Washington Post]
  2. Editorial: The human cost of slashing Medicaid

    Editorials

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had no choice Tuesday but to postpone voting this week on a bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act that is just as devastating as the version passed by the House. The Congressional Budget Office's estimate that Senate bill would eliminate health care coverage for 22 million …

    Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press
  3. Vince Young takes shot at Bucs' Ryan Fitzpatrick

    Blogs

    Former NFL quarterback Vince Young, out of the league since 2011 and complaining about not getting more opportunities to prolong his career, took a shot at new Bucs backup Ryan Fitzpatrick in a story posted at …

    Veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who signed with the Bucs to be Jameis Winston's backup this fall, has played for six other NFL teams in his 12 seasons in the league.
  4. Editorial: Scott's poor choice for CFO

    Editorials

    Gov. Rick Scott didn't reach too deeply into Florida's talent pool in appointing his friend Jimmy Patronis to fill a vacancy as the state's new chief financial officer. This is an exceptionally weak choice for a Cabinet post that requires a sophisticated understanding of banking and other financial services, and it …