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Ralph Thomas ’76 ’77G ’16P

Ralph Thomas ’76 ’77G ’16P

“Here comes the neighborhood.”

That’s what economics professor John Keefe would say when he saw Ralph Thomas ’76 ’77G ’16P approaching. Keefe nicknamed Thomas “the neighborhood.”

Maybe “neighborhood” derived from Thomas’ connections across campus (particularly wrestling tickets). Maybe it referenced his different perspective on the Lehigh experience.

No matter its derivation, Thomas saw Keefe as a mentor who helped him navigate his days at Lehigh and his days after leaving South Mountain...and the relationship served as one of the big reasons that Thomas gives back to Lehigh today.

Coming to Lehigh

Thomas was the youngest of his parents’ three children. His father had an 8th grade education...a point Thomas emphasizes when speaking to students at Lehigh. Education was stressed in the household as a means to improve one’s life.

Thomas took it to heart and was co-valedictorian of his junior high and high school class. Nathan Harris, assistant dean of student life at Lehigh, visited Thomas’ high school and made an impact on Thomas. Off to Lehigh he went.

Time at Lehigh

Once arriving on campus, it took three weeks before Thomas unpacked his bags.

‘What have I done to myself?’ was the question nagging him. He hadn’t yet found his friendships and wasn’t liking his classes.

Thomas transferred to the College of Business and then plugged in by joining the Black Student Council and pledging Beta Theta Pi. He became an athletic trainer for football, baseball, wrestling, and basketball, traveling with the junior varsity to away games.

He was a teaching assistant to Keefe and Jim McIntosh, professor emeritus of sociology.

Those professors along with Dean Harris helped cement Thomas to Lehigh through their friendship and mentorship. He remembers when Keefe sat him down and mapped out his career path - a plan that shocks Thomas today because it played out exactly as Keefe saw it.

Career Success

Thomas interned at Price Waterhouse for three summers and was offered a role upon graduation. He earned a senior title in two-and-half years. While he worked hard, he had to learn to hob-nob, so he joined the company basketball team to better get to know his colleagues.

He served as the president of the D.C. chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants (NABA) and later became the national president of the organization. He was named a “NABA Legend” at the 2009 Annual Convention and recipient of the organization’s 2010 National Achievement in NonProfit Award and 2010 Presidential Service Award.

Beyond national service to his field, Thomas also served his industry state-wide, working as CEO and executive director of the New Jersey Society of CPAs. He held that role for 23 years and was named by Accounting Today as one of the “Top 100 Most Influential People in Accounting” for five straight years.

Service to Lehigh

His service to Lehigh began as president of the alumni association. He later transitioned to the board of trustees. For thirteen years, he was a member of many committees and subcommittees: audit, finance, student affairs, academic affairs, campus planning and operations, and, most importantly, diversity.

“Lehigh is, and has been, moving in new directions to bring more students of color and faculty of color to campus,“ he says. “I’m proud to see that one-third of students are students of color. Lehigh has done a good job and continues to make strides.”

These are areas of interest that have spurred two planned gifts from Thomas to Lehigh. He currently supports the recruitment, retention, and professional development of underserved students and faculty in the College of Business through the establishment of an endowment. He and his wife also made the decision to further support this area through a bequest.

“I am honored to be in a position to give back,” he says. “Seeing leaders in the community and faculty who look like the students is important. I am hoping to encourage other alumni of color to get engaged and ensure that the campus is a comfortable and thriving space for students and faculty of color.”

By: Stephen Wilson

Lehigh University Donor Ralph Thomas ’76 ’77G ’16P