October 13, 2016
MEMORANDUM TO THE MARIST COLLEGE COMMUNITY
FROM: DAVID YELLEN
SUBJECT: Lowell Thomas, Jr.
I wanted to let the college community know about the passing of Lowell Thomas, Jr. earlier this month at age 92. Marist has had a long-term relationship with the Thomas family, and the Lowell Thomas name adorns our communications building, but not everyone is familiar with the story of broadcast pioneer Lowell Thomas and his son Lowell Thomas, Jr.
Lowell Thomas (1892-1981) was an American journalist whose radio broadcasts were some of the most memorable of the 20th century. Lowell Thomas' profile of British Army officer T. E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) during the First World War made both men famous around the world. In 1949, Lowell Thomas (accompanied by his son Lowell Thomas, Jr.) traveled to Tibet to meet the young Dalai Lama and his ministers, documenting many aspects of Tibetan culture on the eve of the Chinese invasion. In his later years, Lowell Thomas lived in Dutchess County and became involved in the College, helping Marist develop its communication program. He received an honorary doctorate in 1981 and bequeathed to the College his collection of documents, photographs, recordings, videos, and artifacts. The James A. Cannavino Library is the proud home of the Lowell Thomas Collection, which attracts students and scholars from all over the world.
Like his father, Lowell Thomas, Jr. was a friend to Marist and a great American. He grew up in both New York City and Pawling, New York and through his father's work as a broadcaster met a fascinating parade of presidents, journalists, princes, and war heroes. He served in World War II as a flight instructor and graduated from Dartmouth College in 1946. Like his father, he had a passion for adventure and travel, particularly by airplane. In 1954, Lowell and his wife Mary Taylor Pryor (known as Tay) flew in his Cessna 180 over the Mediterranean from France to Morocco, across Africa, over Mount Kilimanjaro, and up to the Middle East, through Iraq and Afghanistan and into Pakistan. Tay and Lowell published two articles in National Geographic about their trip and co-wrote the book Our Flight to Adventure.
Flying eventually led Lowell to Alaska, where he served for 12 years in the state senate before becoming Lieutenant Governor in 1973. He was a true public servant, known for his staunch advocacy of the environment, for working against the bounty hunting of wolves, and for leading the way in establishing Chugach State Park. Among many other honors, Lowell was awarded a Lifetime Achievement award by the Alaska Conservation Foundation in 2004. In 2012, the Alaska Legislature passed a Legislative Citation honoring Lowell and Tay for their lifetime of work on behalf of the state.
Because of his 1949 trip to Tibet, Lowell Thomas, Jr. was a lifelong advocate on behalf of the Tibetan people and culture, writing the best-selling book Out of This World and producing a movie of the same name. He met a number of times with the Dalai Lama and in 2005 received the Light of Truth award from the International Campaign for Tibet. The organization called him "one of the grandfathers of modern day Tibet."
Lowell Thomas, Jr. was a wonderful, unpretentious person who was a great friend to the College. He spoke here and worked to nurture and expand the Lowell Thomas Collection. He took a great interest in, and worked closely with us, to choose the recipients of the Lowell Thomas Award, which recognizes outstanding individuals in the communications industry whose lives and work reflect the imagination, courage, ambition, and humanity of Lowell Thomas. The recipients are a who's who of the most important journalists of our time, including Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, Mike Wallace, Helen Thomas, Barbara Walters, Judy Woodruff, and Christiane Amanpour.
Lowell Thomas, Jr. was predeceased by Tay, his wife of 64 years, and is survived by his daughter Anne Donaghy, son David Thomas, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Anne has been active in preserving the legacy of her father and grandfather and has been a strong supporter of Marist's Archives and Special Collections. She recently arranged for a generous grant to digitize and preserve more than 4,000 cans of film that had been previously donated to the College by Lowell Thomas, Jr. We look forward to a continued relationship with the Thomas family. As we mourn his passing, please join me in saluting the extraordinary life of Lowell Thomas, Jr.