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Dr. Thomas Cole, Jr., Founding President of Clark Atlanta University, dies


Administrators, alumni, employees, and students of Clark Atlanta University are mourning the loss of its founding President, Dr. Thomas W. Cole, Jr., Ph.D. 

In 1997, Cole was appointed president of Atlanta University and Clark College. After the two schools became one, Cole was named the President of the historically Black university. Cole led Clark Atlanta University until 2002. Today, Clark Atlanta, which has about 4,000 students, is the largest private historically Black school in Georgia. 

While he served as president, Cole launched phase one of the institution’s first capital campaign, The University for A New Day Campaign, which exceeded its $9 million goals, raising $11.5 million. Cole also served as the Chairman of the United Negro College Fund member presidents.

Cole started his professional career in 1966 as an assistant professor at Atlanta University, teaching chemistry. He served as the chemistry department chair from 1970 to 1979, and from 1969 to 1979, he was the Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Chemistry. In 1979, he was named Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs until 1982. 

Cole left Georgia and from 1982 to 1986 he served as president of West Virginia State College before he was appointed chancellor of the West Virginia Board of Regents. Cole returned to Atlanta five years later and was named the president of both Atlanta University and Clark College in 1987. His task was to simultaneously manage both schools and create a consolidation plan. The university’s current president, George T. French, Jr., Ph.D. said in a news release from the school, “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. 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 the 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 is survived by his beloved wife of 57 years, Judge Brenda Hill Cole, two adult children, Kelley Cole Graham (Romero) and Thomas III; two granddaughters, Ava Margaret Graham, and Samantha Brynn Grahamand; three sisters, The Rev. JoAnn Cole Weeks, Eva Cole Harper, Patricia Cole and a host of other devoted family members, close friends, and colleagues. 

Funeral services are scheduled for 11 a.m. on Monday, April 25 at Cascade United Methodist Church at 3144 Cascade Road in southwest Atlanta. 

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that gifts be made to the Thomas W. Cole Jr. Scholarship Fund at Clark Atlanta University.


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