June 27, 2013

Attorney Elisa Maloff Reiter ’80, ’83 is a graduate of SMU’s Dedman School of Law. In this letter to SMU Magazine, Reiter shares memories of a favorite law professor, Ann Van Wynen Thomas, who died in March:

Professor Ann Van Wynen Thomas

Professor Ann Van Wynen Thomas

Picture it, 8 a.m.

Not the time of morning for most students to be sitting in their seat, enraptured by a professor.

But enraptured I was, and I remain.

My dear friend and former pre-law advisor, Professor Ann Van Wynen Thomas, died on March 27, 2013, at the age of 93 in Texoma, to which haven on the lake she retired in 1983.

For those of us of a certain age, 8 a.m. may have been an impossibly early hour. Yet the stories woven by Professor Thomas at that early hour in regard to constitutional law and international law made it well worth the effort. With tales of trading whiskey for a working toilet and tub, she integrated her experiences in the Foreign Service, where she worked from 1943 through 1947, into the study of key cases. First posted as a vice consul to Johannesburg, South Africa, she was later an attaché of the embassy in London, and later, in The Hague, Netherlands.

Ann was born in the Netherlands on May 27, 1919, the only child of Cornelius and Cora Jacoba Daansen Van Wynen. The family came to the United States in May 1921, and Ann became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in November 1926. She attended the University of Rochester and completed a bachelor of arts degree with distinction in June 1940. She then entered the University of Texas law school, passing her bar exams in October 1942 and receiving the Doctor of Jurisprudence degree in January 1943.

Following her work in the Foreign Service, she returned to America and promptly married her great love, A. J. Thomas, Jr. They repaired to New York City, where simple but stunning Cartier gold bands were chosen as a reflection of their lifelong commitment – in love, in life, and in the pursuit of good cooking, fine entertainment, and being ultimate raconteurs beloved by faculty and students alike. Professor A. J. Thomas, Jr. is credited with helping to develop and build the program for international students at SMU’s law school.

A prolific author, often writing with her beloved husband – who served as ad interim dean [of Dedman School of Law] after Professor Galvin’s tenure – her publications are still cited in regard to the war powers of the president, the Organization of American States, and international law in the Western Hemisphere.

In addition to her teaching duties, Ann served as pre-law advisor for SMU from 1966-84. She also served on numerous governmental commissions, advising on such important issues as civil rights, the Central American Common Market and arms control and disarmament. She received SMU’s Willis M. Tate Award twice. She also received the University’s “M” Award, an Outstanding Professor Award and the University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award from The United Methodist Church.

While Ann Thomas maintained offices in the then subterranean labyrinth of the Political Science Department in Storey Hall, her favorite place was on the other side of the massive partner desks ensconced in A.J.’s office – except for Spaniel Hall, their retreat on Lake Texoma, which was so named due to their lifetime love of King Charles Cavalier Spaniels. First a simple cottage, a natatorium was later added to facilitate swims for A.J. They later added a bigger living space to accommodate their frequent parties for SMU students, professors and alumni.

When A.J. passed away in 1982, a number of international students in the law school funded the A.J. Thomas Commons Room in Storey Hall. The University also designated the A.J. & Ann Van Wynen Thomas Memorial Endowed Research Fund. Please help SMU remember the Thomases by making a contribution to the fund in their memory. There are hundreds, if not thousands of us, who have benefitted from their wisdom and humor over their decades of service.