Higher Education Leader, Reform Advocate
Thomas E. Corts--born in Terre Haute, Ind., and raised in Ashtabula, Ohio--came to Alabama relatively late in life, but it is difficult to imagine the last 30 years of the state's history without his influence. He first saw how he might combine his faith and love of learning while attending Georgetown College in Kentucky. He went on to earn M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Indiana University before serving as executive vice president at Georgetown and president of Wingate College in North Carolina.
Called to the presidency of Samford University in 1983, Corts soon recognized not only the potential of the university, but of the state. In the latter case, he recognized the need for a new generation of leaders to address systemic problems. Not content to isolate himself in the academy, Corts led by example, investing himself personally and professionally in public policy reform efforts. He cofounded Alabama Citizens for Constitutional Reform, and was an early supporter of Leadership Birmingham, the Alabama Poverty Project and the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama. Even when policy successes proved elusive, Corts carried on with the difficult and unglamorous work in the name of "the least of these."
At Samford, Corts demonstrated what could be done when everyone pulls in the same direction. Samford rose to become one of the region's top universities, rapidly growing enrollment, endowment and campus. So much of what Samford is, and is yet to become, rests on the foundation of his personal vision and accomplishments.
Corts was compelled to leave the world better than he found it, and even the quieter life of retirement was no match for a new call to service. In 2007, U.S. President George W. Bush appointed him to serve as coordinator of basic education in the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID]. As a man who cherished the quiet and contemplative side of life, Corts likely would not feel at ease in any hall of fame. But this honor celebrates the man in hopes of inspiring others, and Thomas E. Corts often suffered the spotlight for the good of a noble cause.
Thomas E. Corts was inducted into the Alabama Men's Hall of Fame in 2013.