Saturday, May 26, 2018
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Longtime math teacher was strict, compassionate

Ruth Ann Thomas, 91, who taught mathematics to Toledo students for decades, died Wednesday in the Hospice of Northwest Ohio, South Detroit Avenue, from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure.

Mrs. Thomas, for many years of Lincoln Avenue, lived most recently in The Glendale Assisted Living.

She retired in the early 1980s from Toledo Public Schools. Her last assignment was coordinator of math labs, in which she worked with elementary teachers who oversaw a hands-on approach to the subject.

Before that, she was in front of a traditional class, mostly at Robinson Junior High School. She also taught for several years at Ella P. Stewart Elementary School.

She used to say she was not like one of those teachers who would assign problems and then sit down, said her son, William, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Toledo.

She moved amongst her students, making sure they understood.

But she did not coddle them or tolerate disruption.

She believed in challenging students and pushing them to go as far as they could, her son said.

She definitely didn t take anything from any of the students.

She made clear that whatever personal troubles a student had, you should be able to do well, and [she] pushed them no matter what to make sure they achieved to the best of their ability, her son said.

In the late 1940s, she encouraged a student, Cleve Sherman, to join the Boy Scout troop in the Brand Whitlock Homes. Mr. Sherman credits Scouting and her encouragement with keeping him focused and out of gangs.

That was the only reason I graduated from high school, said Mr. Sherman, who has been a leader in the Scouts Erie Shores Council and nationally.

She was gentle and strict both, he said. She was more like a mother to all of us.

She was born in Arkansas and lived in Canada and Tulsa, Okla., while growing up. She graduated from Roosevelt High School, Gary, Ind., at 14.

She received a bachelor s degree from Knoxville College in Tennessee, a historically black college. She received a master s degree in mathematics education from the University of Michigan.

She said she faced some barriers there, due to the fact that she was both black and a woman, her son said. My mother had a very strong Christian faith, and that kept her going in times of challenge and trouble.

She taught fifth grade in Gary afterward. While there, she met William Thomas, a sailor stationed at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station near Chicago who was a doctoral student at Northwestern University.

They married in 1944. He became a lawyer and served on the Toledo Board of Education, of which he became president. He died May 26, 1988.

Surviving are her son, William N. Thomas, Jr.; daughter, Susan Diane Thomas, and a granddaughter.

Visitation will be from 4 to 6 p.m. tomorrow in the Dale-Riggs Funeral Home Chapel, followed by wake services from 6 to 8 p.m. in the mortuary. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday in St. Paul Baptist Church, where she had been a deaconess.

The family suggests tributes in her honor to the William Thomas Memorial Scholarship fund in care of the UT Foundation.

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