Mark Twain in the Baker College Library

I ran across these photos in a Baker scrapbook that I found on the top shelf of their library a couple of years ago. It’s a Mark Twain impersonator, and a darn good one too:

JD Thomas as Twain Baker late70s 2

JD Thomas as Twain Baker late70s

It is, of course, long serving Rice English professor J.D. Thomas, who took up this act late in his career. Thomas came to Rice in 1930 and stayed around until his death in 1993. These photos were with materials from the late 1970’s and that looks reasonable to me.

Here he is in 1944, a young instructor exiting Cohen House:

JD Thomas Instructor in English 1944 Campanile

Thomas was, by the way, something of a character. Here’s the “Autographic sonobituary” that was published at his death. It’s pretty entertaining:

JD Thomas autobituary

From my own particular perspective, J.D. Thomas is a hero. I have slogged through the minutes of every single faculty meeting from their inception in 1912 until last year and the years when Thomas was secretary of the faculty are an oasis in a very, very dry desert. He had a real gift for turning the usually latent comedy of faculty debates into full fledged, open hilarity. I suspect people actually read them.

Bonus: Tommy Lavergne says this is coral vine. It’s really thick and beautiful and there were bees buzzing all around it.


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9 Responses to Mark Twain in the Baker College Library

  1. Ron Sass says:

    Perhaps the best and maybe only reason to go to a faculty meeting during the Secretary Thomas years was to hear him read the minutes of the previous meeting. As a more or less illiterate scientist I marveled at his abilities with the language and remember him fondly for his humor and insight into the human condition (I do consider faculty members to be humans).

  2. Barney L. McCoy says:

    That is indeed coral vine and it ranks with kudzu and bamboo as an aggressive menace to society. We’ve owned our home in Montrose 38 years and, because of those pretty pink flowers and bright green leaves, we planted 2 vines along the side fences. Within a few years it covered the fences on all four sides, the telephone, electric and cable lines and many of the trees in our yard and the neighbors’ yards. For about 10 years we cut it way back each winter, but it came back stronger each spring. We eradicated it by painstakingly digging it up, one sprig at a time; but that took another 10 years. We’ve replaced it on one side with jasmine and on the other with native Texas passion vine, which the bees seem to love equally as well.
    Barney L. McCoy, Hanszen 67

    • texan999 says:

      Absolutely–we have a lot of coral vine here in Rockport, but it grows beautifully in Houston, too. It’s pretty aggressive if it gets a water supply, but worth the trouble to hem it in.

  3. George Webb '88, '91 says:

    Evidently the reports of Twain’s death really were greatly exaggerated.

  4. George Webb '88, '91 says:

    And I like the fact that J.D. Thomas mentions that St. Thomas is “no relation”.

  5. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    Mr. Thomas suffered through my attendance during the insufferable Sophomore year. The course was labeled Business English or Scientific English or something like that. Strangely, as I recall, we read Huckleberry Finn and other non-scientific and non-business material during the course. I don’t remember business or scientific English ever being broached.
    Luckily, we had already run the gauntlet of THE SPELLING LIST — that is, we that had passed it in the Freshman year. Mr. Thomas was a good man and teacher, stuck with a stuffy class, in one of those small rooms in Lovett Hall. (Has anyone mentioned there was NO AC?)
    I’m sure he was a superlative Sam Clemens.

  6. Steve Lukingbeal says:

    It was a great pleasure taking Professor Thomas’s English class in Humor to fill out the last semester of my senior year in 1976. We analyzed the varied humor of Mark Twain, Jonathan Swift, Johnny Carson, and Joan Rivers, among others. He was the first non-PhD professor for most of us and corrected us when we called him “Dr. Thomas”. He said he never acquired a PhD because he began his career at the beginning of the Great Depression. Even though I thought my papers were hilarious, he was a stern grader and gave me my worst grade that year. Instead of an anticipated easy A, it bumped me out of cum laude consideration. But I never held that against him, and enjoyed his numerous public presentations (several on TV) of Mark Twain, which improved like a fine wine as he aged to resemble and sound like Twain more

  7. I never knew Professor Thomas, but this post makes me wish that I had. It also put a badly needed smile on my face.

  8. Pingback: The New Plan, 1947 | Rice History Corner

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