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Former Wake Forest president Thomas K. Hearn Jr. dies at age 71

August 18, 2008

Thomas K. Hearn Jr., who led Wake Forest University to prominence as one of the top 30 national universities in the United States, died today at his Winston-Salem home.  He was 71.

A memorial service is expected to be held later this week.  Details are being finalized.  More information and photos will be posted on the Wake Forest Web site at

Hearn served as Wake Forest’s 12th president from 1983 until his retirement in June 2005.  Ultimately, he was the second-longest serving president in Wake Forest history.  He was succeeded by Wake Forest’s current president, Nathan O. Hatch.

Today, Hatch called Hearn one of Wake Forest’s greatest leaders.

"He served 22 years with great vision and integrity, and all who love Wake Forest are grateful for his legacy of achievement and the place the institution holds in American higher education,” Hatch said.

While president of Wake Forest, Hearn also became one of the most active and influential community leaders in Winston-Salem, chairing and serving on numerous boards of organizations dedicated to bringing prosperity to the local economy and improving the lives of community residents.

Hearn presided over dramatic changes that brought Wake Forest to unprecedented national esteem in the world of higher education after many years as a well-regarded, but regional, liberal arts college.  

During Hearn’s presidency, Wake Forest ended its governing ties with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina and established independent governance; saw college applications double; hired significantly more faculty; hosted Presidential Debates in 2000 and 1988; and launched an extensive construction and renovation initiative.

Wake Forest also achieved record-setting heights in fund-raising to meet numerous needs in its educational mission; earned recognition by U.S. News & World Report as a top 30 national university; received international recognition for a technology initiative that provided laptop computers to all students; and established the Wake Forest Divinity School.

In 2003, Wake Forest announced that Hearn was being treated for a brain tumor at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.   Hearn took off some months to recuperate from surgery in late 2003 and early 2004.  In April 2004, Hearn announced that he would retire, in keeping with long-held plans, in June 2005.

Press Contacts:

Kevin Cox
(336) 758-5237

Cheryl Walker
(336) 758-5237

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