Tribute to Dr Jack Thomas OAM

15 December 2017

Dr Jack Thomas OAM (26th October 1928 - 4th December 2017) died peacefully surrounded by family. With Jack's passing we remember a renowned academic who had a significant influence on pharmaceutical sciences and pharmacy education in the UK and Australia over many decades.

Early years

Born in Northern England, Jack completed his undergraduate and postgraduate training at the University of Manchester in the UK and already developed a strong reputation as a leading academic in pharmaceutical chemistry. While visiting Manchester, the late Tom Watson invited Jack to take a secondment in the then Department of Pharmacy at the University of Sydney. Eventually Jack took up an academic position at the University in the early 1960's. Over the following years Jack developed a love for Australia, a place he made home and fully embraced.

Contribution to academic life

As a pharmacy academic, Jack taught literally generations of pharmacists the intricacies of pharmaceutical chemistry, always highlighting the relevance of medicinal chemistry in the clinical setting. This included how chemical structure influenced pharmacological response, determined pharmacokinetic behaviour and even impacted on the risk of adverse events. He delivered all this with his classic midlands accent and style, laconic and dry witted.

Research and research training

Jack joined the Department at the time when the research landscape was changing. With access to then novel analytical equipment (such as gas chromatography) and bringing skills in novel chemistry techniques Jack set about building a strong research lab that embarked on a diverse portfolio of research. This included fundamental studies on drugs acting on enzyme acetylcholinesterase and a series of landmark research clinical pharmacology studies on local anesthetics. His research covered the fields of pharmaceutical chemistry, analytical chemistry, basic experimental pharmacology, clinical toxicology and clinical pharmacokinetics. Jack's research is published in leading international journals such as British Journal of Anaesthesia, Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics and the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology.

Importantly, Jack trained numerous researchers, many of whom have gone on to be experts in their field and become research leaders across Australia and the world. Some of his former students he mentored or collaborated with include Basil Roufogalis, Roger Nation, Stuart McLean, (late) Peter Meffin, LE Nighjoy, ( late) Brian Love, (late)Dennis Morgan, Laurie Mather and George Moore.

Academic Leadership

Jack became acting head of the Pharmacy Department at the University of Sydney in 1973 and was then appointed head of the Pharmacy Department in 1976 until he retired from academic work in 1978 at the age of 60 years.

A leader in continuing professional education

Jack took a leading role in developing and delivering professional education to pharmacists. This included leadership roles with the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and Australian Pharmaceutical Publishing Company (APPco). A major initiative was his leadership (with others) in developing the Offshore Conferences (run by the Pharmaceutical Society of NSW). These conferences continue today and have been highly successful. Each year the attendee's participate in the highly sought after Jack Thomas Quiz. Jack also took on major roles that really shaped pharmacists' access to high quality information such as his role as consulting editor of the Australian Journal of Pharmacy, author of the AJP's Continuing Drug Information section over decades and many would know of his role as editor of the Australian Pharmaceutical Prescriptions (or APP) Guide which was a required text for generations of pharmacists.

Jack is survived by his wife Barbara, daughters Pam and Karen, grandchildren Mark and Ian and three great grandchildren—Lara, Olivia and Cooper.

Tributes to Jack Thomas

"Jack has had many achievements in Australian pharmacy but probably the most signi¬ficant can be summed up as being considered by many to be the father of continuing professional education (CPE)." "Jack's extraordinary career of almost 70 years marks him as someone with few peers in the profession"
Australian Journal of Pharmacy (Vol 93, November 2012)

"Along with the late Ken Bickle and myself, Jack was responsible for formulating the first Offshore Conference run by the Pharmaceutical Society of NSW in 1977 to Noumea. He was the Course Director for 19 conferences through to 1994 and of course was also well known as Head of Pharmacy School, University of Sydney, his 25 years of service on the Pharmaceutical Society Councils and his role as consulting editor of the AJP for many years."
Warwick Plunkett, Chairman, PSA Offshore Refresher Conference Committee

"Jack was a person I always admired because of the many qualities that I have touched on. He was great company - exciting, sometimes controversial and even confrontational- but always sincere and sensible. He taught me - along with medicinal chemistry - how to drink good scotch whiskey ("you must add a bit of water to experience the true aroma and taste of a good scotch!" he said). He will be remembered as the consumate pharmacy academic and educator."
Emeritus Professor Basil Roufogalis, University of Sydney

"Jack himself was larger than life, a delight to be around and always with a smile on his face; and very, very encouraging in my formative years as a scientist."
Professor Roger Nation, Monash University

Written by Professor Andrew McLachlan with information from Emeritus Professor Basil Roufogalis.