Dr. Peter Thoms ’55
The child of medical missionaries in Muscat, Oman, Peter Thoms ’55 knew his whole life he wanted to be a doctor. He grew up in southeastern Arabia assisting his father in the operating room in the community in which they served.
“My dad was a wonderful example, a mentor,” Thoms said. “Though he did not encourage us to go into medicine, he was a great example of medicine at its finest.”
His childhood experiences led him into a pre-med major when he came to Berea College in 1951. While at Berea, he worked in the hospital, first as a janitor, before accepting a position in the clinical lab. Thoms actually lived at the Berea Hospital for a year and a half, in a room in the basement.
After graduating from Berea College with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1955, Thoms continued his education at the University of Michigan, earning a medical degree before interning at Hurley Hospital in Flint, Mich. He, along with nearly all of his brothers and sisters, followed the humble example of their father and became doctors; one became a physical therapist. But all were guided by the spirit of service that surrounded their mission-minded home overseas.
“Service, being unselfish and helping other people was my heritage,” Thoms said. “Berea reinforced that and gave me good work experience. But having grown up in a missionary family, my parents were exceptionally servant minded. I really had the underpinnings of that before Berea.”
Thoms worked as a family medical practitioner for 57 years before retiring in 2017. During his career, he served as a Christian Medical Society member; as president of the Genessee, Lapear, Shiowasee Chapter of the American Academy of Family Physicians; and as a teaching associate for the Hurley Hospital School of Nursing, Department of General Practice.
“I loved it,” Thoms recalls of his career. “I love taking care of people. Their loyalty to me and my ability to help them was just a pleasure. I tell people that I practiced medicine because I loved it and never regretted having to go to work or what I did.”
It is not about how much anyone gives, but just that they give something consistently. We have some classmates who have done well and have been generous. Any amount is great, but I want to lead with percentage of givers.Dr. Peter Thoms ’55
Not only was Thoms passionate about and dedicated to his work in the medical profession, he has displayed exemplary dedication to Berea College over the decades. He served on the Alumni Executive Council for four years, where he gained even more enthusiasm for supporting his alma mater. After looking at the president’s reports on philanthropy each year, Thoms made it his goal to increase the giving of his 1955 class.
“Through serving on the Alumni Executive Council, I got to see more of what happened at Berea College and became even more enthused about it,” Thoms said. “I decided to kick it up a notch and told [my classmates] why I felt Berea deserved our gifts. It was just a personal thing, and I thought I could do more.”
Through letter writing, phone calls, prodding and support, Thoms has seen the class of 1955 rise to lead giving efforts to the College, ranking No. 1 in the 2017-18 President’s Report on Philanthropy at 38.9 percent giving. However, Thoms is still working to motivate his classmates with a goal of being the first class to reach 100 percent giving.
“It is not about how much anyone gives, but just that they give something consistently,” Thoms said. “We have some classmates who have done well and have been generous. Any amount is great, but I want to lead with percentage of givers.”
His desire to see Berea’s alumni give consistently to the College that supported them prompted the idea to involve students in philanthropy while they still are enrolled at the College. Thoms’ concept sparked what is now known as the Berea Patrons program. As of May 2019, 1,024 of Berea’s 1,600 students are part of the patrons program, giving back a small portion of the funds they receive from their labor positions on campus. In addition, 80 percent of the 2019 May graduates were Berea Patrons.
“We can all do something,” Thoms urged. “Every Berea student and alumnus can do something. If we can get that message across, Berea would do well. First of all, Berea does a fantastic job, and I like giving to charities that are doing well and have meaningful programs that are helping. Second, I received from Berea a tuition-free education, and it only makes sense that I would help perpetuate that so other students can get the benefit I got.”
Now retired, Thoms spends his free time gardening at his Michigan home, where he resides with his wife, Cheryl. He has eight children, 22 grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren. He also is very active in his church, where he serves in men’s ministry and preaches on occasion.