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Ewart Thomas: Academic icon and math prodigy

Happy Birthday, Ewart, on your 70th Birthday Celebration on Dec.25, 2012. 70 runs, not out, and still batting vigorously.

Hip Hip Hooray on a magnificent Test Match. May you, with God’s blessing, advance, like Brian Lara, to the century-mark and beyond. Permit me, Ewart, to extend this convoluted sporting metaphor, one step further.

The apostle Paul, at the end of a glorious spiritual marathon exclaimed: “I have fought a good fight. I have finished the course. I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is reserved for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall gave me at that day”. [2 Timothy 4:7-8]

Ewart, I have looked on, with bated breath, as you have run this magnificent marathon. It is a journey that began in the sleepy hamlet of Vryheid in New Amsterdam, Berbice, where you attended your father’s elementary school and learnt the fundamentals of arithmetic, algebra and geometry which you later developed to perfection.

The marathon continued at Queens College in Georgetown, where you won the Guyana scholarship in 1959, and became one of the first Guyana scholars to have earned distinctions in all three science subjects- Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics.

In 1960 you won a UCWI open scholarship and proceeded to the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies where you graduated in 1963 with first class honors in mathematics.

The marathon continued at St. Johns College in Cambridge, U.K. where you were awarded the PhD in statistics in 1967. Your dissertation involved the creation of a mathematical model of the brain.

The marathon culminated at the University of California at Stanford where you became Professor of Mathematical Psychology in 1974, then chairman of the Department of Psychology at Stanford the largest psychology department in the world. In 1988 you became dean of the School of the Humanities and Sciences, the first person of African ancestry ever to achieve this feat. In 1989 UWI granted you an honorary Doctorate of Laws for being the most outstanding student in the quarter century since your graduation in 1963.

As you continue your magnificent marathon, I tip my hat in tribute to a great Berbician, a famous Guyanese, a celebrated West Indian, a renowned alumni of Queens College, an illustrious alumni of the University of the West Indies, a mathematical genius, an outstanding scholar, teacher and administrator.

In spite of his monumental academic achievements Ewart Thomas remains at heart “a simple country boy” without the hubris and affectations so often found in Afro-Saxon academics. He is a “people’s person” who has become a friend and confidant to the Caribbean community at Stanford. When asked by a reporter why he was so famous on campus, Ewart replied, in his usual self-deprecating and unpretentious manner, “Because I throw the best fetes on campus”

One day when this marathon is completed I have no doubt that the Creator will meet Ewart at the Pearly gates, and confer on him that blessed crown of which St. Paul spoke, and greet him with the words, “Come ye blessed of my father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundations of the world.”

[Matthew 25:34]

It is a serious travesty of justice that, in spite of his outstanding academic credentials, the University of the West Indies, his alma mater, has not seen fit to appoint him as Vice-Chancellor. It is even more pathetic that the University of Guyana, a second-rate academic institution, has not seen fit to appoint this first-rate Guyanese scholar as its Vice-Chancellor. I can only hope that President Barack Obama, who has often spoken of the need for minorities to do well in mathematics and sciences, would appoint this outstanding black scholar as Presidential Advisor in Mathematics and Science at the U.S. Department of Education, where he would be an inspirational role model to young Black and Hispanic students in the United States.

*Colin A. Moore, Esq. was a classmate of Ewart Thomas’ at Queens College, Georgetown; a fellow resident of Taylor Hall at the UWI campus at Mona, Jamaica; a fellow Berbician and Guyanese national.

E-mail address: colin.moore@yahoo.com

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