Carol Thompson is one of those rare individuals who has seen UNF from two entirely different perspectives. As a student, she obtained her master’s degree in allied health science in 1979. As a civic leader, she was a charter member of the UNF Board of Trustees and its founding chair.
In both roles, she acquired a lasting love of UNF. It started when she discovered the individualized attention made possible by faculty members who “understood there is more than one way to teach and to learn.” She recalled an example when she and a few other students were struggling with the traditionally challenging subject of statistics.
“My learning style was different and the professor understood that, so each week the professor spent an hour after class with the students who needed extra help,” she said.
During that particular semester, Thompson said her father died right before the final exam.
“The professor allowed me to come back and take the test one-on-one,” she said. “He could not have been more helpful.”
The UNF faculty member recognized the importance of family, which is important to Thompson. The middle child of six children, Thompson had earned a nursing degree in her hometown of Cincinnati. After moving to New York, she earned a degree in political science from City University of New York. Thompson became a head nurse and assistant director of nursing at a Bronx hospital before moving to Florida in 1977. She started working at Baptist Health, holding a variety of positions there including director of education and director of nursing. She ultimately served as executive vice president for strategic development.
It was during her tenure at Baptist that her role as a civic leader became more prominent.
“I gravitated to committees that work in the community and appreciated the opportunity to represent Baptist in the community while also affecting issues I was most passionate about,” she said.
Education was one of those passions. She was instrumental in getting a professional scholarship fund established at Baptist to help employees continue with their education. She and her husband, Joe, have also established an endowed scholarship at UNF for students majoring in nursing and have contributed to the First Generation Scholarship program.
Jacksonville’s business community quickly recognized her leadership abilities. In addition to chairing the boards of a number of organizations dedicated to improving community health, she was also active in the Jacksonville Area Chamber of Commerce, becoming the first woman to chair the organization in 2001.
However, it was her role at UNF that dominated her civic involvement after Florida higher education was reorganized under then Gov. Jeb Bush. Individual boards of trustees were established at each state university, and Thompson was selected by the first UNF board to be its chair.
“It was a gratifying feeling,” Thompson said, “to become involved in setting the course of a university I once attended.”
She temporarily stepped down from her position on the UNF Foundation board to accept her new responsibility. Thompson and then Foundation Chair Howard Serkin worked together to ensure a strong, collaborative relationship between the two boards, which remains today.
Serkin praised Thompson for her role on the BOT, saying they worked together to ensure there was no confusion about the roles of the two groups. From day one, the Foundation members respected the role of the Trustees, and the Trustees respected the role of Foundation members.
“We really worked well together,” Serkin said. “To her great credit, Carol understood the importance of a smooth transition to the Board of Trustees while still maintaining the full support and enthusiasm of the Foundation. Carol was a pleasure to work with and she achieved a seamless, highly successful transition.”
Next came the creation of a Board of Governors in 2003. For a time, it wasn’t clear what role the new state board would have and what responsibilities the university boards would maintain. It was also a time during which the leadership of UNF was changing, as President Anne Hopkins resigned for health reasons.
Despite the uncertainty, the new BOT, with Thompson at its helm, worked through the issues.
“The presidential search process was extraordinarily gratifying because it pulled the board together,” she said. “We worked effectively as a team, and I take great pride in the eventual outcome in selecting John Delaney as the next president. His leadership and vision have been an incredible force at the University.”
Thompson’s deep-seated connections to the University even extend to her family. Her daughter-in-law, Renee, graduated with an M.B.A. from UNF in 2007, and Thomson was at the commencement ceremony representing the Board of Trustees. Her son, John, also has a UNF connection, as he mentors UNF students working at his wealth management firm.
Her many experiences at UNF, including serving on the advisory board for the Brooks College of Health, have taught her a valuable lesson in the role of a university in the community.
“I think UNF has made a huge difference in Jacksonville, not only because of the quality of its graduates, but also thanks to the quality of its faculty and the many programs available to the community,” she said. “In return, the community has responded by supporting the University in its various fundraising endeavors. It’s really a two-way street.”
Although she retired in 2010, Thompson continues to be active, serving on the Baptist Health Board and on the board of Baptist Medical Center-Beaches. She and her husband regularly attend UNF lectures and programs, including many events co-hosted by the World Affairs Council.
Because of her different roles at UNF — from student to policy leader — Thompson and the University have had a mutually beneficial relationship. She treasures the time she has spent watching UNF develop into a regional leader in higher education and credits the University’s leadership for maintaining its strong dedication to providing well-rounded educations to thousands of students.
“My roles at UNF have been among the most fulfilling aspects of my life,” she said. “UNF is important to so many people. You really don’t have to work very hard to sell its story in the community. It’s been very rewarding to see how invested donors have become in UNF’s future.”