Penn State University announced that Joab Thomas, the school's 15th president, passed away Monday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
He was 81.
Thomas led Penn State for five years, from 1990 to 1995. During those years Penn State saw a boom in construction of new buildings including an addition to the Nittany Lion Inn and the first phase of Research Park, which is now Innovation Park.
"Joab Thomas was a brilliant scholar, a visionary leader and a true gentleman," said Penn State President Rodney Erickson in a statement. "His commitment to students was legendary, and he played a critical role in building Penn State into an internationally ranked university. ... We were very fortunate to have Joab's leadership, dedication and goodwill, and he will be greatly missed."
Erickson also gave credit to Thomas for overseeing Penn State's entry into the Big Ten athletic conference.
During his tenure Thomas helped create the Institute for Innovation in Learning which is now the Schreyer Institute for Innovation in Learning. He also worked to build alliances with AT&T, Pepsi and Barnes & Noble.
According to Penn State, a university paleobotanist named a fossilized pollen after Thomas in 1994. Thomas did his dissertation on this pollen, now named "joabthomasii."
In 1996, the Classroom Building located at the corner of Pollock and Shortlidge Roads was re-named in his honor.
Thomas was born Feb. 14, 1933, in Holt, Ala. He earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in biology from Harvard University.
Over the years he collected many awards including honorary degrees from the University of Alabama, Stillman College, Tri-State University and North Carolina State University.
Thomas is survived by his wife, Marly, along with four children and 13 grandchildren.
Click HERE to learn more about Thomas' time at Penn State.