Former Wake Forest University president dies (updated Aug. 20)
    August 19 2008 by wire reports

    WFU photo

    Thomas K. Hearn

    Thomas K. Hearn, 71, died Monday, Aug. 18.

    Hearn, who was president emeritus at Wake Forest University (WFU), died at his Winston-Salem home.

    Although he retired in June 2005, Hearns kept an office in Z. Smith Reynolds Library.

    In 2003, Hearn was treated for a brain tumor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. He took off some months to recuperate from surgery in late 2003 and early 2004.  In April 2004, Hearn announced his retirement.

    In the fall of 2003, Hearn underwent surgery for a brain tumor doctors had found.

    Family members are planning a memorial service Friday, Aug. 22 at 3 p.m. in Wait Chapel. Reports say Hearn died of complications with a brain tumor.

    An Alabama native, Hearn was WFU’s 12th president and served 22 years in the post.

    In an article from WFU, the current president, Nathan Hatch, called Hearn one of the university’s greatest leaders.

    "He served 22 years with great vision and integrity, and all who love Wake Forest are grateful for his legacy of achievement and the place the institution holds in American higher education,” Hatch said.

    In a Winston-Salem Journal article, Hatch looked back at Hearn's legacy.

    "What I will remember most was his devotion to Wake Forest and to its people," he said.

    Before coming to WFU, Hearn was senior vice president at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Born in Opp, Ala., Hearn grew up in Albertville, received a bachelor's degree at Birmingham-Southern College in Birmingham and a master's degree at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., before getting a doctorate in philosophy from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.

    Within three years of arriving at the university, the school ended its ties with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), establishing independent governance.

    This move allowed WFU to appoint its own trustees while giving up BSC financial support.

    "That was a major step in the history of Wake Forest," said Ed Wilson, a retired provost who worked with Hearn, in the Journal article. "It made it a more diverse school."

    The BSC founded Wake Forest College in 1834 in Wake Forest. The original Wake Forest campus is located in Wake Forest, the current home of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.

    During Hearn's time at WFU, applications doubled, more faculty were hired and two presidential debates (1988 and 2000) were hosted on the campus.

    During his tenure, Wake Forest Divinity School was established.

    The broad green lawn at Wake Forest that stretches from Wait Chapel to Reynolds Hall was given the name of Thomas K. Hearn Jr. Plaza in his honor. A collection of his commencement speeches was recently published in a book called On This Day of Endings and Beginning.

    The university has posted more information and photographs at

    He is survived by his wife, Laura; three children, Thomas, Lindsay and Will; three stepchildren, Brys, Hampton and Forrest; and nine grandchildren.

    Memorials to: Wake Forest University Brain Tumor Center of Excellence, Office of Development, Medical Center Boulevard, Winston-Salem, NC 27157-1021.

    8/19/2008 1:14:00 AM by wire reports | with 0 comments

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