CHATTANOOGA, TENN. – Dr. Carolyn Thompson, former dean of UNC Pembroke’s Esther G. Maynor Honors College and a member of the faculty in the Department of Political Science died on March 2. She was diagnosed in 2011 with myelofibrosis, a cancer of the bone marrow.
Dr. Thompson came to Pembroke from UNC Charlotte in 2000 with her husband, Dr. Roger Brown, who had been named UNCP’s provost and vice chancellor in the Office of Academic Affairs. They left in 2006 when Dr. Brown was appointed chancellor of The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), a position he still holds.
Dr. Thompson was the founding dean of the Honors College in 2001 when it was formed from the Chancellor’s Scholars program. As leader of UNCP’s Honors College, she recruited its first students and helped establish its programs and curriculum. In an interview with UNCP Today, she said one of the best parts of the job was working with first generation college students from the region.
The UNCP community remembers Dr. Thompson as a deeply committed scholar, caring leader and friend.
Dr. Jesse Peters, a faculty member in the departments of English and Theatre and American Indian Studies, succeeded Dr. Thompson as dean of the Honors College. “I was profoundly saddened by the passing of Carolyn Thompson,” Dr. Peters said. “During her time at UNCP, she set the foundation for what is now the Maynor Honors College, and I was proud to know her as a colleague and friend. Her commitment to student learning and engagement was unmatched. But more importantly, she had a vibrant personality and made those around her feel better about themselves. We should all take a lesson from the way she worked and lived, and her loss will be felt by many, many people.”
Dr. Elinor Foster, dean of library services, remembered Dr. Thompson as a supporter of the library and committed to the education of her students. “Dr. Carolyn Thompson was a brilliant political science scholar and a skillful administrator who was always interested in assisting students and promoting the mission of UNC Pembroke,” she said.
“I especially appreciated her involvement in the projects of the Friends of the Library. She made certain that Honors College students were visible and respected during the Friends’ annual benefit evening, where they served as dining assistants and were introduced to the attendees,” Dr. Foster continued. “Dr. Thompson served as the faculty member on the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Library, and before her move to Tennessee with Dr. Brown, she had agreed to allow her name to be submitted for election to the office of vice president/president-elect of the Friends of the Library. Her departure was a significant loss.”
Dr. Susan Cannata, a faculty member in the Department of English and Theatre, was a colleague and friend. “Dr. Carolyn Thompson was a woman of conviction, whose commitment to her students, to civic duty and to the overall betterment of the academic experience was laudable,” Dr. Cannata said. “A strong woman who was not cowed by adversity in any form, Carolyn approached life with bull-by-the-horns vigor, activism rooted in compassion, and a sense of humor that made even the staunchest blush. I miss her and will remember fondly her sincere kindness and enthusiastic spirit.“
Women’s soccer coach Lars Andersson was impressed with Dr. Thomson from their first meeting. “When I initially arrived at UNC Pembroke 11 years ago and began to put together the first-ever women's soccer recruiting class, I decided to pay a visit to the Honors College to learn more about what the program could offer potential recruits. There, I was greeted by Dr. Carolyn Thompson.
“I was immediately struck by her enthusiasm for education in general and the Honors College in particular,” Andersson said. “Her passion for her students and her desire to instill in them a thirst for learning were infectious. I knew instantly that I had found a friend on campus and began actively recruiting soccer players to the Honors College.”
Coach Andersson traveled to Sweden with Dr. Thompson and Dr. Roger Brown. “The purpose for the trip was to set up an exchange agreement between UNCP and Umea University,” he continues. “Although I knew both Dr. Thompson and Dr. Brown, I was a bit apprehensive. After all, a lecturer and women's soccer coach is a bit further down the organizational chart than the provost and the dean of the Honors College. However, Carolyn and Roger asked me to drop the titles to make me feel more at ease and proved to be very down-to-earth people. During our trip to Sweden, I came to further appreciate Carolyn's curiosity and thirst for learning. She had an almost child-like enthusiasm for exploring new things—a trait I had come to appreciate in my mother, a Swedish high school teacher of over 40 years. Carolyn proved to be humble and appreciative, but also very honest and straightforward and sense of humor. When the trip concluded, Carolyn and Roger had gone from colleagues to friends.
“When I learned of Carolyn's passing, my thoughts naturally went to Roger and the immediate family,” Andersson continues. “However, through her tireless involvement in education and various volunteer organizations, Carolyn will be missed not only by her family, but by all of those people she affected though her work over the years. She was a remarkable person and, as we mourn her passing, we must also take the opportunity to celebrate her legacy. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the tragic loss of Dr. Carolyn Thompson.”
A native of Wooster, Mass., Dr. Thompson earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University and during her career served as a medical social worker at UCLA Medical Center, the director of social work training at Kennedy Kreiger Institute of Johns Hopkins Children's Hospital and chair of the Department of Social Work at Mars Hill College. At UNC Charlotte, where she was professor of health administration, she established the Master of Health Administration degree program.
In Chattanooga Dr. Thompson served on the boards of Memorial Healthcare System, the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, Community Impact, Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga, the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera and Friends of Moccasin Bend. She was a volunteer for the National Park Service at Point Park on Lookout Mountain.
She is survived by her husband, Dr. Roger Brown; her daughter, Caroline Thompson of Los Angeles; her son, Dr. Austin Thompson, and daughter-in-law, Mash Hes, both of Greenville, North Carolina.
Services were held on March 6 on the UTC campus. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Carolyn's honor to: The Mary Finnegan Rinkus Endowed Scholarship, UTC Office of Development, Dept. 6806; 615 McCallie Avenue, Chattanooga Tenn., 37403; The Women's Fund, Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga, 1270 Market Street, Chattanooga Tenn., 37402 or Hospice of Chattanooga, 4411 Oakwood Drive, Chattanooga, Tenn., 37416.