Raymond Elliott Thomas, o.b.e., f.r.s.a., m.com., ll.d. (hon)
Professor of Business Management, University of Bath
Ray Thomas was Professor of Business Administration at the University of Bath; his main areas of expertise were corporate governance, transport economics and strategy.
Raymond Elliott Thomas was born in Aberdare at 54 Broniestyn Terrace, on May 7 1923, the only child of Thomas Thomas and his wife Dorothy Millicent Jane (née Elliott), who were themselves both only children. Ray’s father was a senior member of staff at the Gadlys Central School, but was subsequently appointed to the headship of Ynyslwyd Secondary Modern School. His mother Dorothy also attended our School joining in 1906 when it was co-educational. She was one of the first sixth formers at the Girls Intermediate School in 1913 when the school opened, and all the girls left the mixed school in Trecynon for Plasdraw. Dorothy’s father A.W. Elliott, Ray’s maternal grandfather, was the School’s first teacher of biology, but when necessary he also taught chemistry. A native of West Chinnock near Crewkerne, he was affectionately called ‘Daddy’ Elliott by the pupils. When the Plasdraw Girls School opened, he transferred there and stayed four years before returning to Trecynon in 1917. He retired in 1930 after forty years as a teacher, twenty-four of which were spent in Aberdare. He lived in the house at the top of Broniestyn Terrace next to the school.
In 1928 when he was 5 years of age Ray entered the Town Council Elementary School, Clifton Street, transferring to the County School in 1934. He left school in 1940 to enrol at Cardiff Technical College where he stayed for three years, leaving with a B.Com., University of London (External). Then, in 1944, Ray joined the RAF as an Aircrew Cadet, and from 1946 he became a Sergeant Instructor based at RAF Bückeburg, West Germany.
On demobilisation in 1947, he returned to academia to study for his M.Com. at Birmingham University, the degree being awarded in 1949. Whilst there he also won the University Debating Championship. His first professional position followed when he was appointed to a lectureship at the Scottish College of Commerce in Glasgow, (now part of Strathclyde University). In 1952 he was promoted to Senior Lecturer, and in 1956 to the Head of the Department of Managerial Studies. It was in Glasgow that he met his future wife Cathleen Emily Dickson who lived in Milngavie.
Professor Thomas returned to the South in April 1962 to live in Clevedon and to take up the post of Head of School of Management Studies at the Bristol College of Science & Technology. When in 1966 The University of Bath was created from his, and other institutions, he became the founding professor of Business Administration, (1966-1987), and Head of the School at Bath’s School of Management. He held this latter post until 1973, and again from 1978 to 1982. He was a Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University, 1978-83, and a lifetime member of Court from 1987. During his time at Bath he was involved nationally in a series of initiatives in Management Education and Development, with both the National Development Office and the Manpower Services Commission. One of Professor Thomas’s most prominent research projects in the mid-1960s was a study of the effects of the then new Severn road bridge on south Wales and the south-west of England. He also chaired the Committee of Inquiry into the implications of the collapse of Laker Airways, 1980. For a period he acted as an adviser to the Thatcher government.
In 1976 he was awarded the Burnham Gold Medal by the British Institute of Management; in 1977, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal; an O.B.E. in the 1978 Birthday Honours List; and the honorary degree of LL.D. by the CNAA in 1980. During his career, and in his retirement, Ray was a committee member, chairman, adviser, examiner, governor, and trustee to numerous organisations, both in the UK and overseas.
Ray retired at the end of 1987 but remained active, participating in the development of the Management Charter Initiative and later the formation of the Centre for Tomorrow’s Company. He lectured to financial managers and industrialists at various training courses, but also remained an active member of the School of Management and attended the annual undergraduate prize-giving ceremony to present the ‘Professor Raymond Thomas Prize’, a prestigious award, presented annually to a graduand from the B.Sc. in Business Administration course with the highest mark in strategy. This award was set up and sponsored by former students of Professor Thomas in recognition of the huge contribution he made to students, the School and the University.
In the summer of 1971 at a ceremony in Clevedon, Somerset, Ray married Cathleen Dickson and set up home at Bonair, 2 The Avenue not far from his previous house in Dial Hill Road, Clevedon. The Thomas home was well known in the town for the various cultural meetings that took place there. Ray organised musical appreciation evenings and was himself an expert in the work of several composers. Cathleen was a proficient speaker of both French and German, and consequently there were also weekly ‘German Evenings’ held at the house. In addition, Cathleen was a most proficient ‘speed reader’ and taught the skill to various professionals who required this ability. Ray was a leading light in the Woodspring U3A organisation, as well as a supporter of the Royal Society of Arts and was Chairman of RSA Wales and West Region, 1998-2000. He retired from the RSA Regional Committee in 2004. Many of Ray’s books and papers can be found in The Ray Thomas Memorial Library, The Exchange, Stroud; various of his academic papers are kept by the University of Bath Library.
Ray was passionate about his music and was a regular opera-goer, especially to the productions of the WNO. He also supported the concerts given by The Bournemouth Sinfonietta. He had a warm sense of humour, and though not an uncritical friend of his homeland, he was proud of his Welsh roots.
Ray Thomas died 12 January 2007 at the General Hospital in Weston-super-Mare. His wife Cathleen had died ten months earlier in the same hospital. There were no children.
The Severn Bridge Survey, mentioned earlier, was announced by Mr George Thomas, then a Minister of State for Wales at the Welsh Office, on 31 May 1966. The survey was jointly funded by the Welsh Economic Council and Economic Planning Council of the south west region. The research team was led by Ray and by E.J. Cleary of University College, Swansea. There was also a contribution from the Newport and Monmouthshire College of Technology. The Queen was to open the bridge later that year on September 8th.