Tributes for Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.

A Tribute to Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. From The Diversity Collegium

R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. D.B.A.

May 24, 1944 - May 17, 2013

When I learned of the unexpected passing of Dr. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., it was such a shock. I have had the great fortune to be a member of the Diversity Collegium, a Think Tank formed to advance the field of Diversity and Inclusion, which he helped establish.

Roosevelt should be heralded as a Founder of our field of Diversity. He pushed for transformational change with a quiet and thoughtful style, which I found to be effective and inspiring. Dr Roosevelt Thomas leaves a legacy of leadership and forward-thinking. I am proud to have called him a colleague and a friend.

–Jennifer "Jae" Pi'ilani Requiro (Collegium member)
National Manager, Diversity & Inclusion Toyota Financial Services

Roosevelt inspired a whole generation of D&I practitioners coming up after him to enter the field and commit to the continuing evolution of this important work. His legacy will certainly live on in the many that he challenged and inspired.

–Nadia Younes (Collegium member)
Group Advisor, Diversity & Inclusion Rio Tinto

Roosevelt was the Gentle Giant of Diversity: a humble savant, a gracious leader, and a wonderful example.

–Joel A. Brown (Collegium member)

As an early founder of diversity work, published books, and mentors to many in today's field, Roosevelt Thomas was aptly acknowledged as a Diversity Legend by the International Society of Diversity and Inclusion Practitioners in 2012. His impact on the diversity field is, indeed, legendary.

–Donna M. Stringer, Ph.D. (Collegium Secretary)
Cross-Cultural Consultant Founder Emerita & Past President Executive Diversity Services, Inc.

For me, the last few days have been a flashing image of the African Dance troop at a Fetzer [retreat center] meeting where they danced and then tried to teach us some of the steps. Roosevelt and I were together at the back of our group and we were both VERY uncoordinated. We were both laughing and giggling together at our own ineptitude and I just so remember his wide smile, laugh and out and out giggle...we so often saw his more serious and professional side and this was one of the times where I saw the the man who also had a light side and was full of fun! A treasure for me as I also think of his huge professional accomplishments.

–Lynda White (Collegium President)

Roosevelt inspired me with his brilliance and courageous humility as I began my journey as a new diversity manager at Pacific Bell in 1993. I treasure the precious few moments we conversed about the world we wanted that includes and respects everyone. Those of us who work in field are all influenced by and grateful for his example.

–Sidalia Reel (Collegium member)

Roosevelt's work has been so influential in my approach to consulting. His ability to integrate diversity management into the mainstream of organisational life has been the most profound. Back in the early nineties his definition of diversity as a "collective mixture of differences & similarities" helped me to explain the concept to South African top management who were just beginning to grapple with the democratic changes & saw diversity as just an attack on racial grounds. That definition made leaders to want to listen. His assertion that good intentions alone are not enough to shift the system remains a great learning point for many leaders.

May his family be comforted by the profound contributions he made worldwide.

–Nene Molefi (Collegium member)

Roosevelt was a pathfinder—he offered us a path away from the mindset of affirmative action to a new way of thinking about differences in organizations. I will always remember his call for "conceptual clarity". We are so fortunate that he took the time and care to write his ideas down and publish them — we will have those for a long time. Of course he impacted many, many people personally and those impacts will be cherished forever. Roosevelt—you were a transformational person in our age—we can only imagine how you might propose to transform heaven.

–Barbara Deane (Collegium Coordinator & Treasurer)

A tribute to his remarkable ability to help frame the business case beyond a PL spreadsheet was instrumental in helping to launch the D&I movement. I also believe that in addition to his conceptual brilliance, his gentle spirit and compassion was not always seen by many. I was always impressed by Roosevelt's humility. If a team prepares a press release, I encourage the team to share how this "sweet soul" helped influence a new field of study & practice. He also encouraged and supported many of us - he was a generous man.

–Juan Lopez (Collegium Emeritus member)

The incredible, ground breaking conceptual contributions to the field of diversity made by Dr. Roosevelt Thomas would have outlived him regardless of when he left us. It is with great sadness we must say such a premature “good-bye”. Roosevelt was always five years ahead of the field in his thinking. He pressed us to reframe how we thought about diversity and the challenges and opportunities it offered. Although he had a quiet personal style no would who spent any time listening to him think, ponder and explore could doubt the passion he had for the advancement of diversity in every aspect of our lives. He will be sorely missed by all on a personal, collegial and thought leader level. (119)

–Kay Iwata (Collegium Emeritus member)
Iwata & Associates, Inc.

Dr. Roosevelt Thomas was a conceptual thinker who made you look at yourself, change your approach while still remaining humble. He always re-directed us to stay focused on competencies. I spoke to Roosevelt last week; he asked me for advice about putting a video on his website. During the past three years, our relationship shifted from collegial to friendship.

We saw an Atlanta Braves baseball game together—he got front row seats right behind home plate. At one point, he turned to me and said, "We are in a dangerous spot. Two diversity pillars (meaning him and me, could go down if we are not careful." He was eluding to the fact that a foul ball could comeback and hit us. During the game he began to tell me about his upbringing, and we focused a bit on what it was like to live during the times of segregation. I'm thought to myself: this is a rare moment! We also discussed issues of aging; he would have turned 69 years old on May 24. Professionally, as we all know, he made a profound difference to diversity. He wasn't all that big on [the concept of] inclusion, but he would put that under the category of effective diversity management. Tke care of yourselves everyone. This is a sharp reminder of just how precious life is, and as such, we must hold our relationships near and dear to our hearts.

–Steve Hanamura (Collegium Emeritus member)

By joining with Roosevelt and others to form the Diversity Collegium we became more trusting colleagues and warmer friends. We came to share the joy, pain and triumphs of our work. In no other setting were we able to bare our souls so freely.

With his very understated sense of humor, Roosevelt would surely have a shy smile as we go back and forth about how, when and where to tweet about his passing. Along with me and more than a few others, I'm certain he knew little or nothing about tweeting and twitters. Several years ago at a DC meeting he had some new bells and whistles on a cell phone. I was curious and asked him about them and how he bought and secured them. Roosevelt looked at me and with a wry smile said he didn't know a damn thing about the phone because his executive assistant did all the upgrades. He only used the phone.

–Price M. Cobbs, M.D. (Collegium Emeritus member)

Dr. Roosevelt Thomas was the most influential scholar of our time and is credited with being the Founding force that created the field of Diversity. His passion and keen intellectual clarity on the requirements for this field are unparallel. He was a man of integrity, courage and humility. Dr. Thomas was a gentle giant and true pioneer in our field. Anyone who is not familiar with his work owes it to him or herself to read and know his work.

–Dr. Edward E. Hubbard (Collegium Emeritus member)
Author, The Diversity Scorecard

Dr. Thomas was not only an amazing thought leader, he was a wonderful, kind and compassionate person, strong in his faith. Through story, metaphor and allegory, Dr. Thomas helped us all better understand how inclusion really was the way to enhance performance. He left us with a remarkable body of work that has transformed the field. Let us remember his legacy by recommitting to the work undone in the field…continuing to passionately and urgently seek equity and inclusion for all.

–Mary-Frances Winters (Collegium Emeritus member)

Whenever I think of Roosevelt, I also think about the elephant and giraffe (that book touched so many, including my grandchildren), friendship (your inspirational message during my chemo treatment), and the “work,” (your legacy will live on through all the contributions you made to our field). Until we meet again.

–Armida (Armi) Mendez Russell (former Collegium member)

I am saddened at this news about Roosevelt. He is gone too soon and will be missed greatly. He was a quiet force and a gentle giant—in the field of D&I and, I believe too, for the world. He inspired me before I knew him, and did so even more when I had the fortune to meet him and get to know him better. He embodied, along with that great intellect, the very spirit of the work to which he was committed. He walked the talk. For me he was a role model on so many levels, and was a man I admired greatly on multiple dimensions. He will live on in our hearts, in the work he has created, and through his influence in the field in which he was a true pioneer. Corporations are better because of him, we are all better for knowing him, and the world is better too because of him.

My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

–Michael Wheeler (former Collegium member)

R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr., what a loss not to not have your physical presence, and what a gift to have had your thought leadership to influence CEO's, other leaders and people around the world. And, thanks for being a friend and colleague, you were always there for us.

–Judith H. Katz (former Collegium member)
–Frederick A. Miller The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, Inc.
Colleagues from the American Institute for Managing Diversity

Dr. Thomas was a thoughtful, introspective, brilliant, leader in the field of diversity management. I had the extraordinary good fortune to spend precious time watching him develop ways to move and shift the diversity dialogue. He would use personal and professional stories to make his point. And he would take a transfixed audience on a journey that began with "conceptual clarity" and ended with a greater understanding of the "promise of diversity." He constantly reminded me that the promise for the nation and the world lays in our willingness and capability to master the "craft" of managing diversity. Although he is no longer with us, his legacy and his words will live on.

–Melanie Harrington (former AIMD president)
CEO Vibrant Pittsburgh

With the telling of a simple fable about an Elephant trying to exist in a house built for a Giraffe, Dr. R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. presented a wake up call to advance the field of diversity and introduced the practice of managing diversity with the shared goal of effecting sustainable change in ourselves, our organizations and our communities. As a graduate of the The Diversity Leadership Academy and past president of The American institute for Managing Diversity, Inc., I worked by his side and came to share his vision, admire his passion and live out the tenants of his work in action."

–Pamela W. Arnold (former AIMD president)
Class of 2007 Diversity Leadership Academy Atlanta Former President of AIMD, Inc.

AIMD has been the visionary effort of many to implement the forward-thinking diversity ideals of Dr. Thomas. Dr. Thomas has been a primary architect of modern diversity and inclusion thinking. His work has been seminal in helping organizations establish healthy, inclusionary, and high performing environments. But, even more so, he has been the shining example of leadership with purpose and social conscience. He will forever be in the hearts of many of us as diversity practitioners and business leaders who aspired to his vision to create a better world where all peoples are enabled, empowered, and ennobled.

–Ralph Cleveland Global Head of Customer Service Operations and Transformation AIG Property
and Casualty Interim President and Board Chairman, American Institute for Managing Diversity, Inc.

Other collegues & friends "Soft spoken, very intelligent, kind and compassionate, Roosevelt Thomas had a view of diversity that was unique—diversity was a way of thinking about business, about education, about life. He embodied the mission of Berrett-Koehler more than anyone I have ever met in my life: "Creating a world that works for all."

-Jamie Showkeir, Past president of Berrett-Kohler Authors Co-op and co-author of two BK books

Roosevelt and I started this work together in 1987 when the Workforce 2000 study came out from the Hudson Institute. We marched around together doing presentations to executive groups about the workforce changes that were coming and the importance of a strategic approach to responding to these changes. When we started the diversity practice at Towers Perrin, Roosevelt was right there beside us, step by step—so much so that he turned over his consulting arm, DCI, to Towers Perrin and they joined us in the Atlanta office. Roosevelt went on to continue his research and writing for a few years. We had wonderful times together in those early days and I will never forget the laughs we had as we wondered if anyone really “got” what we were saying at that time. Well, he can rest in peace knowing that yes, people did get it then—and the many years following when he continued to write and speak to help us define our practice.

–Margaret Regan

I just posted a tweet about Roosevelt Thomas' passing. Folks are correct, there is not much being said in the Twitter World only other Tweet is by Gail Zoppo. If folks want to Tweet, they should include these hashtags: #RooseveltThomas and #diversity in their Tweet. Look for my Tweet handle on @culturesleuth and retweet and add more.

–Terri Kruzan Culture Sleuth
....investigating company culture + leading change