Photo: Kim teaching economics class
Dr. Thomas Kim was first and foremost an economist. Kim died Monday, March 12, 2012, just three months after his retirement from Hardin-Simmons University. Funeral services have been set for Saturday, March 17, 2012, at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Abilene.
At HSU, he held the title of distinguished professor of economics in the Kelley College of Business from fall 2000 until his retirement in December 2011. The popular professor was known for three main courses, Principles of Macro Economics, Intermediate Micro Economics, and Managerial Economics, which he taught at the graduate level.
HSU president, Dr. Lanny Hall, says, "Dr. Kim was a great friend of mine. I knew him as a president and colleague, as a wonderful Christian brother and as a fellow member of the HSU family. I had great admiration for him. I'll always remember his good spirit and sense of humor."
The long-time Abilenian and highly respected community leader was born in Shanghai, China, to Korean parents in 1929. While his early years were spent fleeing the colonial Japanese army, in a 1990 Abilene Reporter-News article, Kim said his parents always had textbooks on hand for him and his six siblings, despite living as refugees. Wherever and however they traveled, the textbooks were always with the family.
Kim came to HSU after serving 24 years as president of McMurry University; a Methodist affiliated four-year college located only miles from HSU. There, he was part of the reaccreditation process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools during 1970, 1980, and again in 1990, before becoming chancellor of McMurry in 1993.
Shortly after coming to HSU, Kim was appointed to the Board of Economists for the Dallas Morning News, where he gave regular updates on the state of the economy and was often called on to forecast the outlook of the Texas economy.
Kim was always highly respected by both his peers and his students. Dean of the Kelley College of Business, Mike Monhollon, says his status was sometimes a bit intimidating to students at first, but they warmed to him quickly. Monhollon says student comments from Kim’s most recent semester were typical of what students always said of him: “He always makes sure we understand the material he is teaching by asking questions, keeping us involved, and making jokes.” “He actually made studying economics interesting,” mused one student in the report. “This course required a lot of reading and hard work, but I learned more…and enjoyed it.”
Kim was one of a trio of profs in a book study group consisting of Monhollon and professor of computer science, Terry Sergeant. One of Monhollon’s favorite memories of Kim is how he participated in the study group. “According to the bylaws, made up and often cited by Dr. Kim, though they were never written down, the book club had to meet over lunch at Bangkok Thai,” says Monhollon. “Occasionally, he allowed an exception to be made in favor of Ann’s Thai Kitchen, the Thai restaurant inside Touch of Class, or more recently, the Little Italy near campus. The hardest book we ever took on was Alfred North Whitehead’s Science and the Modern World, written in 1925. The most recent was The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America,” remembers Monhollon.
When asked if Kim ever shared any of his experiences as a youth, when his family was fleeing, Monhollon says, “Yes, but I later learned that he made some of them up. He had one about being pressed into military service at the age of 10. His job was to straddle open bomb bay doors with another boy. As the plane swooped low over the bombing site, both would swing machetes to cut the vines that held the bombs. They had to cut the vines with a single stroke at exactly the same moment to keep the bomb from swinging against the plane and blowing it up. I was trying to get him to retell the story once, and he grinned and flapped his hand at me and said, ‘It makes a good story, doesn’t it? It’s one I like to tell sometimes. I hope you didn’t believe me.’”
HSU president emeritus, Dr. Jesse Fletcher, remembers Kim and his keen sense of humor when they were both president of the rival universities. “When Tom was president of McMurry, he was very encouraging to me when we were reviving our football program. At the first game between McMurry and HSU, played at Shotwell stadium while the HSU facility was still being built, we were standing side by side in the end zone. When HSU started beating McMurry, Tom turned to me and said, ‘Maybe this was a bad idea.’”
McMurry president, Dr. John Russell says in a letter posted on the university’s website, “It was during the presidency of Dr. Kim that McMurry College became McMurry University. The Amy Graves Ryan Fine Arts Center, the J.W. Hunt Physical Education Center, the Shirley L. and Mildred Garrison United Methodist Campus Center, the J.E. and L.E. Mabee Dining Hall, and the Phillips Family Activity Center were all completed during Dr. Kim’s presidency.”
After Kim’s retirement from McMurry, he served as visiting professor of economics at Abilene Christian University from 1994-2000. He also served in professorial roles at Berea College, Berea, Kentucky, where he earned his B.A. in economics in 1952. He was assistant professor of economics at the University of Akron from 1961-1962; Baker University, Baldwin, Kansas, from 1962-65; and was associate professor of economics at Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas, for five years, before his recruitment to serve as president of McMurry.
He earned an M.B.A. from Indiana University in Bloomington in 1954, and earned a Ph.D. in economics from Tulane University, New Orleans, in 1961.
He also was awarded two honorary doctorates, Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas, 1973; and Berea College, 1994. He was honored as Distinguished Citizen of the Year by the Abilene Chamber of Commerce in 1986, and named National Citizen of the World by the Military Airlift Command of the U.S. Air Force in 1987.
“Tom Kim became a friend in the ten short years I was privileged to know him,” says Russell. “He was supportive of an institution he helped put and keep on the map. But it was his gracious courage that will leave a most lasting impression with me.”
Dr. Jesse Fletcher will speak at Kim’s memorial service this Saturday.