Thomas Rowan spent his life successfully challenging the
status quo before his voice was stilled September 23,
2000, when he died of natural causes in Washington Hospital
Center at age 75. He will be sorely missed.
Rowan's first contact with Oberlin College was unnerving
and accidental. The U.S. Navy had sent him to Northwestern
University for summer training as a naval reserve officer
in 1943, but, because of his color, he was refused residence
there and was transferred to Oberlin.
After the war, he returned to the campus to complete his
degree as a math major. Miss Foster, his English professor,
confirmed for him the possibility of using the English language
as a way of earning a living when she critiqued an essay
and assured him that he would definitely make it as a writer.
His periodic visits to the campus kept him in touch with
black students from the Washington, D.C., area, many of
whom attended Oberlin under the Project Excellence program
which Mr. Rowan founded in 1987. The program has contributed
over $39.5 million in scholarships.
In 1997 the Oberlin Alumni Association awarded Mr. Rowan
the Association's highest honor, the Alumni Medal, for his
"outstanding advocacy of Oberlin's values."
A well-known commentator and nationally syndicated newspaper
columnist, he has been called the United States' "most
visible black columnist." During a career that spanned
more than half a century, he was a frequent guest on public
affairs radio and television programs and served in the
administrations of Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. He is
survived by his wife, a son, a daughter, and four grandchildren.