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Urban innovator and Trinity Trust CEO Gail Thomas

Urban innovator and Trinity Trust CEO Gail Thomas
receives 2014 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award

Gail Griffin Thomas
Gail Griffin Thomas
Read the Q&A

March 19, 2014

DALLAS (SMU) — Civic leader Gail Griffin Thomas ’58, president and CEO of the Trinity Trust Foundation and an innovative champion of urban transformation, received the 2014 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility at a March 19 luncheon at the Belo Mansion.

Thomas has been a respected catalyst for inner city quality of life improvements for several decades. After Dallas residents approved the Trinity River Project in 1998 to create a centerpiece for the city and help neighborhoods feel a stronger connection to Dallas, Mayor Ron Kirk tapped Thomas to develop an operation to raise private funds for the plan.

In addition to Thomas’ Trinity Trust leadership role, she is director of the Dallas Institute’s Center for the City program, where she teaches and conducts seminars and conferences — something she has done for several decades in a host of U.S. and international cities.

“Gail’s humility and accomplishments are downright staggering. She has blazed trails for our city, questioned complacency and also taken risks with boundless imagination and inspired perspective,” said Nancy Cain Marcus ’74, a Maguire Ethics Center advisory board member and friend of the honoree who offered introductory remarks. “Gail is a prophet of good who operates with legendary diplomacy, deep compassion and vision.”

The Trinity River Corridor Project consists of 20 miles and 10,000 acres of land in and along the Trinity River Corridor and the Great Trinity Forest. It seeks to protect downtown Dallas against future flooding while providing environmental restoration, improving transportation congestion, spurring economic development and creating a magnet for play – ideal for downtown residents with limited outdoor recreational opportunities.

Upon its completion it will be considered the largest urban park in the U.S., including sports fields, trails, nature centers and recreational opportunities ranging from kayaking to horseback riding.

Thomas’ efforts for the Trinity project also helped inspire the philanthropic gifts for the design of Dallas’ two bridges designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava. Currently she is seeking funds to build the Trinity Spine Trail from the Audubon Center to White Rock Lake.

Thomas was instrumental in creating downtown Dallas’ Pegasus Plaza and co-chaired the Dallas Millennium Project to restore the city’s iconic flying red horse, Pegasus. Through the Dallas Institute, she hosted a five-year urban design initiative for Dallas known as “Dallas Visions,” directed by James Pratt.

After directing the Center for Civic Leadership, a University of Dallas Master’s degree program, she became a co-founder of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture in 1980, and served as its director for 17 years. In 1982 Thomas created the “What Makes a City?” conference that has left a profound impact on urban planners, artists, scientists, poets, teachers, business and civic leaders.

“We give this award to someone with courage; someone who responds to challenges with a sense of grace and ethical direction,” said Maguire Ethics Director Rita Kirk. “Gail Thomas certainly represents all of those things.”

Thomas has written the books Healing Pandora: The Restoration of Hope and Abundance, Imagining Dallas and Pegasus, the Spirit of Cities. She co-authored Stirrings of Culture with Robert Sardello and Images of the Untouched with Joanne Stroud. Her next book, Recapturing the Soul of the City, is forthcoming, as is a play she is writing.

Thomas has received numerous awards including the Kessler Award for improving the quality of life in Dallas, the Athena Award from The University of Dallas and the Award of Excellence in Community Service from the Dallas Historical Society. She also has been designated one of “The Dallas 25” by D Magazine, and “Woman of the Year” by The Femmes du Monde.

In addition, Thomas is a distinguished alumna of both SMU and The University of Dallas. She has been a national awards panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, and has been honored by the Texas Society of Architects and the American Institute of Architects.

Thomas and her husband, Bob Thomas, have three children and 10 grandchildren.

“The fact that this award is named for the man who achieved the highest in excellence in public service means a great deal to me,” Thomas said, noting that her first foray into civic work was serving on Jonsson’s “Goals for Dallas” design task force.

“When I think about what J. Erik Jonsson did for Dallas — how, in the year following the Kennedy assassination he took office and went on to turn the ‘City of Hate’ into the ‘City of Hope’ — I’m very honored,” she said.

Past winners of the J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award, now in its 17th year, include Nancy Ann & Ray Hunt, Walter J. Humann, Ruth S. Altshuler, Bob Buford, Ronald G. Steinhart, Michael M. Boone, Zan W. Holmes Jr., Roger Staubach, Caren Prothro, Tom Luce, Ron Anderson, Jack Lowe Jr., William T. Solomon, Stanley H. Marcus, Charles C. Sprague and Curtis W. Meadows Jr.

For more details about the award or the Maguire Ethics Center, visit smu.edu/ethics, e‑mail maguire_ethics@smu.edu or call 214-768-4255.

ABOUT THE AWARD:

 2014 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics AwardThe J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award is named in honor of the public-spirited former mayor of Dallas. It is given to individuals who epitomize the spirit of moral leadership and public virtue. The founders of our nation foresaw that the ideal of liberty alone would not sustain our country unless accompanied by the concept of “public virtue,” a sacrifice of self and resources for the public good. The Maguire Ethics Center is proud to present this award to people whose careers should be recognized, honored and modeled.

J. Erik Jonsson was a founder of Texas Instruments, a strong advocate for education, and as mayor of Dallas from 1964 to 1971, worked to improve morale and the image of the city after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He pushed through a $175 million bond election that financed a new city hall, the Dallas Convention Center and the Dallas Central Library, and was a driving force in the development of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. For more, visit smu.edu/provost/ethics/events/ethics award.

ABOUT THE MAGUIRE ETHICS CENTER:

The Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics & Public Responsibility is a University-wide center supporting student and faculty ethics-related education and activities, as well as community outreach to private and public institutions in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. The Maguire Ethics Center serves as a forum for the exploration of issues bearing on the public good. It also seeks to challenge and encourage the development of ethical discernment, imagination and action. It brings together those who confront issues of social importance with resources and opportunities for ethical reflection. For more information, visit smu.edu/ethics.