February 6, 2009
Samford Mourns Thomas E. Corts; Memorial Service Planned for Sunday
A public memorial service is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 8, to honor the memory of Samford University President Emeritus Thomas E. Corts.
The 2 p.m. service will be in the Leslie Stephen Wright Center Concert Hall on the Samford campus. The family will receive guests following the service. Burial will be in a private service for family members only.
Corts, who led the Baptist university for 23 years before retiring in 2006, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack Wednesday morning after being taken by ambulance to Brookwood Medical Center in Birmingham. He was 67.
Corts had returned to his Birmingham home in January from Washington, D.C., after serving the George Bush administration as coordinator of The President's Initiative to Expand Education and subsequently as Coordinator of Basic Education in the Office of the Director of Foreign Assistance, U.S. State Department. The program provided aid to four million school children in Ethiopia, Ghana, Honduras, Liberia, Mali and Yemen.
"There is no way to measure the impact of Tom Corts' life and ministry on this university and the thousands of lives whom he touched," said Samford President Andrew Westmoreland, who succeeded Corts at Samford in June of 2006. "We have all lost a great friend. We stand united with Mrs. Corts and the members of the family, and we pledge our enduring friendship to them in the months and years ahead.
The university's official flag was flying at half-staff. Flags at his alma mater, Georgetown (Ky.) College, also were flying at half-staff. Wreaths were placed near Corts' official portrait in Samford's Harwell G. Davis Library and in the grand concourse of Thomas E. and Marla H. Corts Arena in Samford's Pete Hanna Center. On Saturday, Corts attended Samford's basketball game against Davidson College, the first-ever sellout crowd in the history of the two-year-old arena.
About 150 employees and students gathered Wednesday for a late afternoon prayer service in Samford's Andrew Gerow Hodges Chapel. "It's difficult to know what to say," University Minister Matthew Kerlin told the congregation. "There are times when we truly are speechless, and this is one of those times."
Corts became Samford's president on Sept. 1, 1983, and presided over one of the brightest periods in the school's history. Among the highlights were the purchase of Samford's London Study Centre, significant growth in the school's endowment, national recognition in publications, construction of more than 30 campus buildings and enrollment increases.
He personally signed and awarded Samford diplomas to more than 17,000 students during his tenure. At the time of his retirement, about two-thirds of Samford's living alumni had graduated during his presidency.
Corts also served as chairman of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) and as president of SACS, the American Association of Presidents of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Association of Baptist Colleges. After retiring from Samford, he served briefly as interim chancellor of Alabama's two-year college system and was slated to become executive director of the International Association of Baptist Colleges and Universities when the government appointment was made. He held leadership positions in other education organizations.
Born in Terre Haute, Ind., Corts grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio. He graduated from Georgetown (Ky.) College and held master's and doctoral degrees from Indiana University. After serving as an administrator at Georgetown, he was named president of Wingate College in North Carolina in 1974, serving until his election as Samford president nine years later.
Corts is survived by his wife of 44 years, Marla, two married daughters, a married son and six grandchildren.
The Cortses were members of Birmingham's Brookwood Baptist Church, where he had served as a Sunday School teacher and in other leadership capacities.
In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested memorial gifts to the Corts Scholarship Fund, Samford University, 800 Lakeshore Dr., Birmingham, AL 35229, or Eddie Gibson International Ministries, P. O. Box 610188, Birmingham, AL 35261.