Civic leader Gail Griffin Thomas ’58, president and CEO of the Trinity Trust Foundation and a champion of urban transformation, received the 2014 J. Erik Jonsson Ethics Award from SMU’s Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility during a Wednesday, March 19 luncheon at the Belo Mansion.
Thomas has been a 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.
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. 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.
“We give this award to someone with courage; someone who responds to challenges with a sense of grace and ethical direction,” said Maguire Center 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.
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.