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Former Tarleton president, A&M chancellor Thompson, dies
Thirteenth President of Tarleton State University Dr. Barry B. Thompson

Tarleton State University

Monday, March 3, 2014

STEPHENVILLE, Texas—Dr. Barry B. Thompson, a towering figure in the history of Tarleton and higher education in Texas, died March 1 at age 77.

Thompson, a Tarleton alumnus who returned to serve as thirteenth president of the university from 1982 to 1990, was later president of West Texas A&M University in Canyon and then chancellor of The Texas A&M University System from 1994 to 1999.

“Dr. Thompson's larger than life personality, brilliant mind and passion for Tarleton made him one of the truly legendary leaders in our history,” said Tarleton President F. Dominic Dottavio. “Barry B. stories will be written about for decades to come, not only because they are colorful, but also because he was a transformative president at Tarleton and an exceptional chancellor for the Texas A&M University System. While we are saddened by his loss and extend our deepest sympathy to Sandra and the Thompson family, we also celebrate the remarkable impact Barry B. had on countless students in Texas and around the globe.”

Thompson’s eight years as Tarleton president were marked by almost frantic energy, enormous growth and dozens of initiatives that touched all aspects of the university. His emphasis on recruitment enabled the university to grow from just over 4,000 students when he became president to more than 6,000 when he left. At the same time, Thompson promoted scholarship and higher academic standards. The Speakers Symposium, the position of University Scholar, the sponsoring of the Southwestern studies book series, the implementation of the Writing Proficiency Exam and the establishment of the Presidential Honors Program were a few of the scholarly programs that occurred during his presidency.

He was the first president to promote minority recruitment as well as the hiring of minority faculty and staff. He routinely spoke at high schools outside Tarleton’s traditional “territory,” reached out to alumni, and used his contacts in secondary education throughout Texas to constantly advocate for Tarleton.

New buildings and renovations also marked his tenure. The current Administration Building was completed in 1986. The old administration building was gutted and renovated as the home of the College of Education and was later renamed the E.J. Howell Education Building. The Dick Smith Library received a massive remodeling beginning in 1983, the Business building was built in 1987, and a new dorm and renovations to existing dorms were undertaken.

He fought, not always successfully, for more equitable state funding for regional universities such as Tarleton, and promoted fundraising from individuals and entities outside state government.

“Barry B. had an enormous passion for Tarleton,” said Dr. Robert Fain, who served as Tarleton’s vice president of academic affairs under Thompson. “He was a strong leader, had an enormous energy and intellect, was a visionary and was not afraid to try anything if it would benefit Tarleton.”

Born in Pecos, Texas, in 1936, Barry B. Thompson grew up in Kermit, the son of public school educators. He enrolled at Tarleton in 1954 and graduated in 1956 with an associate’s degree in biology. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Texas Tech, taught school in the Panhandle and received a doctorate in educational administration from Texas A&M in 1972. He then spent years in college administration, first at Pan American University and later at what was then called East Texas State University in Commerce.

After a successful eight years at Tarleton, Thompson resigned at the request of the A&M System Board of Regents in order to assume the presidency of a financially troubled West Texas A&M. After resolving that school’s difficulties, the regents tapped him in 1994 to lead the entire Texas A&M University System as chancellor.

He retired in 2000 to live on his farm and ranch in West, Texas, where he enjoyed breeding and raising American Quarter Horses.

In 2002, Tarleton officials paid tribute to him by having the Student Development Center renamed the Barry B. Thompson Student Center.

Dr. Dennis McCabe, who succeeded him as president of Tarleton in 1991, said Thompson was, “after John Tarleton himself, the single most influential person to promote, to defend, and to serve this great institution of higher learning. He served Tarleton for nearly 60 years as student leader, as an active alumnus, as a faculty member, as its president, and as its chancellor…. I will remember him as a fair boss, a trusted colleague, and a knowledgeable mentor, but mostly as a special friend.”

The University will host a memorial service for Dr. Thompson on Sunday, March 9, at 2 p.m. in the Clyde H. Wells Fine Arts Center Auditorium. A reception following the service will be held in the Barry B. Thompson Student Center Ballrooms until 5 p.m.

Funeral arrangements are pending.


Tarleton State University
A member of The Texas A&M University System

Contact: Joe Michael Feist

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Thirteenth President of Tarleton State University

Dr. Barry B. Thompson