Published on January 8, 2021 by Morgan Black
David Thomas ’72 and his wife, Grace, established the David and Grace Thomas Endowed Scholarship in memory of their parents, E. W. and Blanche Thomas and Grace D. and Roy W. Knight Jr. The scholarship is awarded to a second- or third-year law student who has demonstrated financial need and academic achievement and also displays leadership and involvement during their time in law school. Here, he shares why he and Grace give back to Cumberland School of Law.
Tell us your Cumberland School of Law story and what led you to choose Cumberland for your law degree.
It was pretty simple for us. I was commissioned a 2nd Lt in the U.S. Army on May 31, 1969 at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. Graduation was that afternoon at 2 p.m. We were married on June 3, 1969 at 2 p.m. In our country during this time, if you were a young man and not a full-time student in an accredited college or university, you were drafted into the Army. A funny side bar to this was that Dean Weeks, the dean of the law school at the time, had written a letter to the U.S. Army that said I was accepted to Cumberland subject to me graduating from Jacksonville State University (JSU). To a reasonable person, this was a normal prerequisite. I received a letter back from the Army saying that was a conditional acceptance and not good enough for me to receive a deferment. I was still at JSU, so I sent it to my mother and asked her to take it to Dean Weeks and see if he could do anything. He greeted my mother with the most gracious and southern gentlemanly reception anyone could have possibly done. He made her feel so very special and made her think her son was as well and that Cumberland was very fortunate to have me as a student. When in actual fact it was the other way for me; I was the lucky one. He wrote a letter to the Army saying I was accepted unconditionally and absolutely with no reservations or conditions of any kind. I really did get a good feeling and a good laugh. I think he enjoyed writing it as much as I enjoyed reading it. He was a very special man and is responsible for a lot of the growth and positive things that happened at Cumberland. I received the deferment and went to and graduated from Cumberland in May 1972.
My grandfather was a widower and he let us live in his Jim Walter’s Home. Is anyone old enough to remember them? All we had to pay was the utilities. That, my wife working, and a NDSL loan is what allowed me to go to Cumberland. I also drove a school bus for Jefferson County. They were so glad to have someone older than 16 driving the bus they let me take it to Cumberland along with a few other young men who were attending Samford. I parked it way above where the gym used to be and walked to the school. In the afternoon I would go pick the kids up and take them home. I parked it at a grammar school about a half a mile from my grandfather’s house and walked home. It was like a second car, albeit a big one.
Tell us about a special moment while you were a student at Cumberland.
After my first year at Cumberland, Professor Claude Bankester recommended me for a position with a CPA. I worked for him for two years until I graduated and accepted a position with what was then Haskins & Sells in their tax department in Mobile. On my wife’s lunch hour, she would come pick me up at noon and take me to the accountant’s office. She would stop and pick up two Sneaky Pete’s hot dogs and that was our lunch. I was working 40 hours a week, counting weekends, and was a full-time student. I know we were not supposed to do that, but the extra money made it work. I never told anyone, but I guess it is ok now. I was lucky enough to get to do some work for Professor Bankester. It was an incredible learning experience and to learn from such a fantastic teacher and later after graduation, he was a very special friend.
Tell us what Cumberland School of Law has meant to you as an alumnus.
I had three jobs in my career. My Cumberland education enabled me to work at three wonderful companies, learn an incredible amount of knowledge and my wife and I accumulated enough wealth to use some of it in a philanthropic way that we thought was worth the investment and gifts.
Why did you choose to create a scholarship at Cumberland School of Law?
Through Cumberland, I gained the knowledge and the skill to learn and grow. This is why we were able to accumulate the assets we have. It was clear to us that Cumberland was where we needed to give back some of the wealth we had accumulated. Creating the scholarship in honor of our parents was a nice way to say “thank you” to them even though they are not with us anymore.
We have also been blessed to support the Boys and Girls Homes of North Carolina in two payments. One is in memory of our granddaughter who drowned at the lake adjacent to the school when she was four days away from her 4th birthday. The Catherine Virginia Powell Education Center was named in her memory. A few years later we made an additional contribution, and the school was named in honor of our entire family, Thomas Academy. Without the knowledge and skills I learned at Cumberland, we would not have been able to do this. The young people who go to the school come from unimaginable circumstances. They all graduate and go to college. One of our dreams is that one of the graduates will go to Cumberland by use of the scholarship we created.
What would you want the recipient(s) of this scholarship to know about the person(s) for whom it is named?
The scholarship is named for our parents. They are the ones who taught us the importance of education and taught us to respect others and revere knowledge and education. In high school, my wife’s mother was president of the National Honor Society, valedictorian of her class, graduated when she was 16 and was the first woman to be a member of the Alabama Security Dealers Association. My father had a chance to go to the University of Alabama on a full scholarship. He graduated from high school at 17 with all As and one B. He was the youngest of six children. His mother had been a widow since he was 8. At that time, the way our family worked, and the way most families handled things, the youngest took care of the mother. So instead of going to Alabama on a full scholarship that Dr. Denny obtained for him, he went to work to take care of his mother.
What do you hope the recipient(s) gain through this scholarship?
I hope they are able to graduate from Cumberland and pass the bar exam on the first test. I hope they are able to contribute to the culture and reputation of Cumberland and help improve it. I hope they learn enough about the law and people that they are able to translate that into a very successful career. In turn, I hope that lets them accumulate assets and/or wealth where they can create scholarships or other contributions to Cumberland like we have been able to. It would be a wonderful goal that all the scholarships would help all students who receive them can continue the process and create a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To learn more about supporting Cumberland School of Law through scholarship, please contact director of development Paula Kierce at email@example.com.