In 1967, Claude Thomas Jr. — a New York born and bred city boy — found himself at a small college in the deep South. Accepting the invite from then president Frank Hale to serve as dean of men, Thomas left his job as a parole officer and relocated his family to Alabama. Thus began his 32-year employment at Oakwood College (now Oakwood University), impacting and influencing the lives of hundreds of students.
After two years as dean, Thomas took a study leave to attend Andrews University, earning a master’s degree. Upon returning to Oakwood, he held positions as director of development and then dean of students. After another leave to engage in doctoral studies at Andrews, Thomas returned to head Oakwood’s Counseling and Testing Center as its director.
During his doctoral studies, Thomas became fascinated with the relationship between the compatibility of individuals and successful marriages. Marriage and family became a specialty area of study for him and, subsequently, a huge part of his counseling practice. Before “The 5 Love Languages” and other relationship tests that are now common, Thomas integrated the use of personality, loving style, and spiritual gifts tests in pre-marital and marriage counseling. Thomas and his life partner, Jocelyn B. Thomas, established the Institute for the Biblical Study of the Family, sharing their relationship expertise with church congregations and other groups across the nation for more than 30 years. They were known for unabashedly using their personal experiences as a couple and parents through which to teach valuable relationship lessons. Thomas also shared his knowledge and experience with students who took the marriage and family course that he taught at Oakwood.
Because of his work in family ministry, Thomas was ordained as a minister in the South Central Conference by then president Charles Dudley, fulfilling Thomas’ life-long dream.
After retiring in 2002 from full-time employment at Oakwood, Thomas served as a special assistant to the vice president of student affairs for several years. He also continued presenting relationship workshops with his wife until a decline in his health prohibited travel. But, that didn’t stop their family ministry. In 2017, the Thomases self-published a book, Becoming a Professional Lover: A Weekly Devotional for Learning to Love God’s Way, offering 52 tips from their personal experience on building strong marital and family relationships.
Claude Thomas Jr., finally succumbed to health challenges that had plagued his body for many years on January 20, 2022. Pre-deceased by his parents, siblings, and one grandson, Thomas leaves to celebrate his legacy his wife of 56 years, Jocelyn B. Thomas; five children; 11 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; a host of nieces, nephews, cousins, and adopted children and grandchildren; Oakwood alumni; and community members and friends.
Patrice T. Conwell is the daughter of Claude and Jocelyn Thomas.
Oakwood University | March 2022