Col. Thomas S. Baur ’75, professor emeritus of biology at VMI, died in a traffic accident in Rockbridge County Aug. 23, 2018. He was 64. Matriculating from Huntington, West Virginia, as a cadet, Baur was a corporal, sergeant and lieutenant and played football for two years. Graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, he commissioned in the U.S. Army as an infantry officer and served for a combined eight years on active duty and in the U.S. Army Reserve.
After completing his active duty commitment, he attended West Virginia University where he earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology. He then went on to Purdue University and earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree in the same discipline. He was employed as an exercise physiologist at the U.S. Army’s Soldiers Physical Fitness School at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana, for six years.
He returned to VMI in 1988 and, after a year in the physical education department, joined the department of biology. There, he taught a wide variety of courses, including ones in genetics, physiology, biochemistry and bio-statistics. Renowned as an engaging and effective teacher, he received the Institute’s Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award and its Distinguished Teaching Award. He also was named to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers.
Baur also served as a mentor to hundreds of cadets and supervised numerous cadet research projects. His exercise physiology laboratory was known as a place where cadets learned the true limits of their fitness and how to conduct proper experiments. His skill on the racquetball court – he taught it as a course – was such that there is no record of him ever losing a match to a cadet or fellow faculty member.
Baur retired from full-time teaching in 2013, and the Institute presented him with its Meritorious Service Medal that April upon his retirement. He continued to serve the Institute as an adjunct instructor in the biology department.
“Tom made many contributions to the department,” said Col. James E. Turner ’65, current head of the biology department. “He was the biology head from 1992-97 and oversaw a number of substantive changes to move the department forward. Tom was responsible for initiating an interest between the biology and PE departments to initiate discussions leading to the establishment of an exercise science minor in 2012. This program is now one of the most popular choices for our majors.”
In his tribute to his colleague at the memorial service in Jackson Memorial Hall Sept. 8, 2018, Col. Dick Rowe described Baur as “a dedicated teacher. He put in a tremendous amount of time preparing his classes and especially his laboratories” and “set high standards and expectations” which cadets worked hard to meet. He also spoke of Baur’s willingness to give cadets selflessly of that most precious commodity: Time. He said this was based on the fact that he “loved working with cadets, whether it was a student in one of his classes, a member of the Honor Court or that random cadet who came to his office just to seek his wise counsel.”
In addition to his teaching duties, Baur served the Institute on numerous faculty and Institute committees, as well as an officer-in-charge of the barracks, as director of the summer session and as the head of the department of biology. He directed the Summer Transition Program and often led morning physical training during it, what was known as “the Power Hour,” and just as often “out PT’d these young people,” to use Rowe’s words. He was also adviser to the Class of 2005, and the faculty chairman of athletics for several years.
Perhaps his greatest contribution to the life of the Institute was his long service – close to 20 years – as the superintendent’s representative to the Honor Court. Fond of saying, “Honor is a lifestyle,” Baur was tireless in his devotion to the honor code and the Honor Court. A reflection of that was the presence of the members of this year’s Honor Court onstage at the memorial service.
As the superintendent’s representative, he kept the superintendent informed of every case in front of the Honor Court and counseled the members of the court in the performance of their duties. But there was more to it, according to Col. Robert E. Phillips Sr. ’87, chaplain to the Corps of Cadets, who said in his introductory remarks at the memorial service, “For Tom, this was not just an additional duty, but a high and noble calling. It was something he believed in, cherished and poured his life into.”
Col. Baur is survived by his wife, Judy, along with their two sons, Daniel and Stephen; two daughters-in-law; and a grandson, as well as a brother and sister.
Those members of the VMI family who wish to honor his legacy at the Institute are asked to give to the Thomas S. Baur ’75 Honor Endowment. Checks should be mailed to c/o VMI Foundation, P.O. Box 932, Lexington, VA, 24450. Credit card gifts can be made at www.vmialumni.org/give.
Scott Belliveau '83 Communications Officer - Executive Projects
The communications officer supports the strategy for all communications, including web content, public relations messages and collateral pieces in order to articulate and promote the mission of the VMI Alumni Agencies and promote philanthropy among varied constituencies.