A message from Dean Douglas Elmendorf

Dear HKS Community,

I write with the sad news that our former faculty member John W. Thomas died on March 11.

John spent more than 45 years at Harvard, including 28 on the HKS faculty up to his retirement in 2010. He dedicated his career to international development, and specifically to fighting poverty and hunger in Asia and Africa. We are deeply fortunate that he spent so much of his career with us.

John worked for the humanitarian organization CARE in Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Bangladesh, and he helped found Oxfam America. He was instrumental in developing the National University of Singapore’s public policy program and managed a collaboration between the program and the Kennedy School. His co-authored book Public Choices and Policy Change: The Political Economy of Policy Reform in Developing Countries received the 1992 Charles H. Levine award for best book in international public policy. 

John is remembered warmly by many in the HKS community, several of whom have written to me. Faculty member Frank Hartmann wrote that “John was a stalwart supporter of the Mason Program and shared his wisdom with the incoming students. I am aware of many of those students who took it to heart.” Scott Leland, who served as executive director of our Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government, recalls that, “above all, John was a beloved teacher, mentor and friend to hundreds of students whose lives he touched over a long and distinguished career.”

A memorial service is being planned for July. Condolences and reflections may be sent to John’s daughter Gwen Thomas, at 5606 Southampton Drive, Richardson, TX 75082, or gmthomas29@fastmail.fm.