Thomas Anderson Jr., 83, of Laverock, a retired associate vice president for community relations at Temple University, died Monday, Oct. 21, from complications of multiple myeloma at Temple University Hospital.
He was chair and cofounder of the George Washington Carver Science Fair, which began in 1979. Over its 40-year existence, more than 37,000 Philadelphia public, private, and parochial school students participated in the fair, officials said.
Born in Camden, Mr. Anderson graduated from Camden High School and had a bachelor’s degree in education from Delaware State University. He also held a master’s degree in education from Temple.
Mr. Anderson retired from the university in 2004, after 31 years. He was so appreciated by the North Philadelphia community that his nickname was “Mr. Temple,” said Ruth Robinson Anderson, his wife of 58 years.
He tried to build stronger relationships between the campus and surrounding neighbors, she said, even though, sometimes, at community meetings, people were angry and suspicious that Temple was going to displace them.
“Support for the community was a part of his mission," said Karen Warrington, a former spokesperson for retired U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who lives near the university.
"He made a profound difference at Temple, and he helped Temple form substantive community partnerships. He had respect for the surrounding community. And the community, in turn, had great respect for him.”
Mr. Anderson was passionate about his work with the Carver Science Fair, said Nancy Peter, director of the McKinney Center for STEM Education, at the Philadelphia Education Fund.
"He wanted to ignite an interest and excitement in kids about science,” she said. He saw science as a critical life skill for children. Even if they didn’t become scientists, he believed they needed to understand it.
Ruth Anderson said she and her husband met as young teachers at a North Philadelphia elementary school. Less than a year after they began dating, he was drafted into the Army and assigned to work as a medic at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas.
Mr. Anderson loved to tell the story of how, after their July 1961 marriage, Ruth Anderson wrote a letter to President John F. Kennedy requesting additional leave for the newlywed medic.
He had received one week off for their marriage in Philadelphia, she said. After he returned to Texas, Ruth, against her friends’ advice, wrote to President Kennedy saying they had just gotten married and had not had much time to spend together.
Mr. Anderson was petrified when he was summoned to meet with officers at the Army base, she recalled: “He wondered what was happening because he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong.”
The first thing the commander asked him, was, " 'Who do you know? You have just been granted a leave of absence by President John F. Kennedy.’ "
Mr. Anderson was a lifetime member of both Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and of the NAACP. In addition, he was a former member of the male chorus at Canaan Baptist Church.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Anderson is survived by his son, Sean Patrick, and granddaughter.
The family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to support the Carver Science Fair, 1509 Cecil B. Moore Ave, 2nd floor, Philadelphia 19121.
A viewing will take place from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 30, at Canaan Baptist Church, 5430 Pulaski Ave., followed by the funeral service.