Lawrence E. Thomas, B.S.B.A. '77

Passionate About Scholarships

Serendipity led Larry Thomas to Washington University: "I grew up in Vicksburg, Mississippi. I was a musician in high school, playing a number of instruments including the saxophone. When I was a junior, I competed for a spot in the Elks Band of Mississippi and got to take part in a parade in St. Louis," he says.

"That's when I learned about Washington University, a place I knew nothing about before. We stayed on the campus for four days, and I had a really great experience. Afterward, in the process of thinking about college, I considered Washington University. I wondered: 'What if I got in there?'"

He applied and was accepted, and he says it was a scholarship that made his attending possible. "The scholarship was certainly important for me, because I wouldn't have been able to attend a private university otherwise. I would have had to go to a state college."

The personal impact of receiving a scholarship has been the impetus behind his support for scholarships for today's students. He began sponsoring an annual scholarship in 1986 and now sponsors two—the Lawrence E. Thomas/Edward D. Jones & Company Scholarship and the Wesley Thomas Scholarship. He is also a member of the University's Endowed Scholarship Committee.

Thomas spent his first two years at the University in Arts & Sciences, working toward further study in pharmacology. Then he decided he was more interested in business and transferred to the Olin School as a finance major at the end of his sophomore year. Two professors had a major influence on him. He studied corporate finance and investments with John Bowyer and banking management with George Hempel. Hempel's contacts helped Thomas take a critical step in his own professional advancement. Hempel had done some work for John Bachmann at Edward Jones Company, and he talked to Bachmann about Thomas' ability and what he could bring to the company.

"As a result, I got an internship, which was the start of my association with Edward Jones. After graduating with a B.S.B.A. in 1977, I was hired full time in the company's Corporate Bond Trading Department," he says. Five years later, Thomas became a principal, and he has continued his rise in several capacities to his present position as principal, Corporate Bonds.

Living in St. Louis has allowed Thomas to follow Washington University's progress closely and has given him the opportunity to become involved in a number of alumni volunteer roles. He began by serving as chair of his 10th Reunion Class and getting involved in the national Black Alumni Council. He became a member and then president of Olin's Alumni Association Executive Committee, and is now a member of Olin's National Council.

He assumed a broader role in University affairs, first as a member of the Alumni Board of Governors, then as chair in 2000-01. He was elected to a four-year term on the University's Board of Trustees in 1998, and was re-elected to the Board while this article was being prepared. He received a Distinguished Alumni Award at Founders Day in 1998.

As a community leader, he has been involved, often as a board member, with the United Way of Greater St. Louis, St. Louis Children's Hospital, the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Clubs, the Saint Louis Zoo Foundation, and Forest Park Forever. Some of his professional distinctions include serving on the board of directors of the Bond Market Association. He also is a member of the St. Louis Securities Traders Association.

"Washington University is important to me, for a multitude of reasons. To start with, it was instrumental to my introduction to Edward Jones," he says. "I think it's provided me with access to people who have been able to help me in my profession.

"The University belongs to all of us, especially those of us who are alums, and the University has done a good job trying to serve its alumni. It's because of the University that many of us have grown up to be contributing citizens, and grown in our professions.

"The University gave us something we could walk away with, other than just a degree, and we should all give as much back as we possibly can.

"The leaders of the University," he continues, giving special credit to Chancellor Emeritus William H. Danforth and Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton, "its alumni, and its friends are very involved, very focused on getting the University to a place where it can serve its students and its alumni with distinction.

"When I was a student, we used to call this a good University; now we call it 'tops.' We have several topnotch programs: The University is on the leadership edge in new areas such as the life sciences initiative, as well as in the more established programs."

Thomas continues to be passionate about scholarships: "When it comes down to it, the University is about serving students, and scholarships are incredibly important. We must continue to make sure that we enroll students here from all economic levels, because everyone can make a contribution to society. I know that the University is very sensitive to making sure that African Americans and other minorities who don't have the financial means can attend. We also want to continue our efforts to recruit a diverse faculty."

With Louis G. Hutt, B.S.B.A. '77, and Wendell Jones, M.B.A. '78, Thomas co-founded "The Tie That Binds," a scholarship-giving initiative challenging African-American alumni. Thomas says, "By offering a challenge, we wanted to encourage a large population of our black alums to support the University's scholarship efforts."

Thomas has seen a great change in many areas, especially in the stature of the faculty and the quality of the students. "We attract professors now who probably would not have considered coming here a few years ago, and more of our student applicants are making Washington University their first choice over other elite private schools."

He says: "I want us to be able to continue to attract the best students from everywhere. As an African-American man, I feel the University has been very special to me. It means a lot to me, and it is an important resource for my firm. I want other African-American students and faculty to be able to have that same kind of opportunity and experience.

"As an African-American man, I feel the University has been very special to me. … I want other African-American students and faculty to be able to have that same kind of opportunity and experience."

"The University receives a lot of support from the community and its alumni and friends, but it also gives a lot back. Washington University has an important role and responsibility in society, and I think it's living up to that challenge."

And Larry Thomas is living up to his role as a loyal and deeply involved alumnus—a great example for other alums, an effective advocate for the University, and a key supporter of important programs that keep the University on course toward remaining one of the very best universities in the world.

—John W. Hansford