Dr. Tom Strong ’67
As the first student body president of Mobile College – now the University of Mobile – Tom Strong worked side-by-side with new administrators and professors to build a college from the ground up.
The biology major from Bay Minette, Alabama, was on stage in Weaver Hall with founding president Dr. William K. Weaver Jr. when Ramses I was introduced as the school’s first live mascot. Soon after, students at the new state school across town – the University of South Alabama – kidnapped the mascot and painted “USA” on his side.
“I felt as SGA president I needed to do something to revenge what they had done to the ram,” Strong said.
Using a drop spreader and leftover ryegrass seed from his minister of music at Spring Hill Baptist Church, Strong wrote a big “MC” in a clearing in front of USA’s administration building just before Christmas holidays. When students returned to school in January, there was a bright patch of MC grass on the lawn. The prank made the local news and became part of University of Mobile lore.
Dr. Thomas Spurgeon Strong, dean of students emeritus at The University of Alabama, died May 28, 2020, after a nine-year battle with Parkinson’s disease. In his long career as an associate vice president and dean of students at UA, Strong’s goal was to recreate the small school atmosphere he first experienced at Mobile College.
“It was an unbelievable experience,” he recalled in a 2010 interview with The TorchLight. “It was wonderful. It was incredible. We were in many respects very conscious that we were the first class, that we would be the charter class upon graduation. Everything we were doing could be a lasting tradition.”
He would go on to earn a master’s degree and Ph.D. from The University of Alabama in education. He served in a variety of positions in Student Affairs for 40 years and retired in 2007. He started the women’s athletic program and was the first director of women’s athletics in 1974. An avid water skier, he coached the UA water ski team for 34 years – longer than any other collegiate coach in the nation.
“He loved his church, First Baptist of Tuscaloosa, his Sunday School Class, and most of all the Lord Jesus Christ,” his obituary stated, adding that he served as an RA leader, teacher, deacon and fundraiser.
Strong also established the University of Mobile SGA Presidential Scholarship Fund in 2008, an endowed scholarship for Student Government Association presidents.
“I recognized not only at the time, but even now, how valuable the experience as student body president was for me. It affected my entire career,” Strong said then. “It gave me a chance to work with university administrators that I never would have had otherwise, which really was instrumental in my choosing to go into administration in higher education.
“My hope is there would be some student who normally would choose not to run because of lack of funding, now choose to run and become an effective leader. And it have a lifelong effect on them in terms of what they do and how they serve.”
Donations may be made to the SGA Presidential Scholarship Fund in honor of Dr. Tom Strong online at umobile.edu/givenow or mailed to the University of Mobile Office for Advancement, 5735 College Pkwy., Mobile, AL 36613.