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In Profile: Susan Thomas, retired senior counsel

In the course of her 30-year career as an attorney at UC’s Office of the President, Susan Thomas worked for six presidents, took a case to the Supreme Court, and witnessed the University’s repeated resilience during difficult times.

It has been a remarkable career, one made even more so by the personal challenges Thomas faced along the way.

“In 1985, I was married and had a 3-year-old and a newborn baby when my husband died in the middle of the night unexpectedly,” Thomas said. “I was a very single mom with two babies, saying ‘how am I going to do this?’”

Thomas, who retired as senior counsel in December, will tell her personal story and share the lessons she learned along the way during a lunchtime talk March 31st. The event, sponsored by the President’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Women, is part of its Women We Admire series.

Thomas was a natural choice for the program, said Jenny Kao, a member of the advisory committee and executive director of IMPAC (Issues Management Policy Analysis and Coordination).

“She’s really respected and accomplished at work, but she’s also managed to have a very full life,” Kao said. “To have thrived and been a model for dealing with big life issues like losing a spouse – she’s got a really balanced emotional and spiritual core. She never loses that sense of herself.”

In addition to talking about her personal experiences at UCOP, Thomas said she plans to share her historical perspective on the University, including some of the truly great presidents who have helped shape it.

“I’ve seen the Office of the President change its character with every president,” Thomas said. “Part of what I learned was that the actual moral character of the president mattered greatly – it would permeate the building.”

President David Saxon, for instance, was fired from UCLA in the 1950s for refusing to sign the loyalty oath. He was reinstated and eventually rose to become the University’s 15th president.

“He was this quiet, unassuming physicist with unshakeable integrity who turned out to be a tremendous advocate for the University,” Thomas said. “Part of the point is – as hard as things are there now, it’s been bad before and these things do pass.

“The institution is really rugged. The people who are there now will see it through. It’s important not to lose heart.”

Susan Thomas will speak at 12 p.m. March 31 in Room 5320 of the Franklin Building. For more information, contact Stella Ngai at 510-987-0513

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