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Thomas R. Scott served SDSU as the dean of the College of Sciences and chief executive officer of the SDSU Research Foundation. Thomas R. Scott served SDSU as the dean of the College of Sciences and chief executive officer of the SDSU Research Foundation.

In Memoriam: Thomas R. Scott

As a vice president, dean and scientist, Thomas R. Scott advanced research at SDSU.
By SDSU News Team

A man of great energy, athleticism, intelligence and eloquence, a loving husband, father and grandfather, Thomas R. Scott succumbed to the effects of a heart attack on May 15, 2017. He came to San Diego in 2000 and served San Diego State University as dean of the College of Sciences, vice president for research, dean of the Graduate Division and chief executive officer of the SDSU Research Foundation before retiring in 2014.

“As vice president and graduate dean, Tom Scott exhibited a vision and leadership that helped drive the campus toward excellence in research and creative activities,” said Stephen Welter, vice president for Graduate and Research Affairs. “During his tenure, new doctoral and master programs emerged and flourished while total grant funding peaked at $150 million.”

Born Oct. 1, 1944 in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania to Thomas Russell Scott, Sr. and Cathryn Steciw Scott, he grew up in suburban Philadelphia. While at Interboro High School, Scott distinguished himself, not only as a student, but also on the baseball mound with his blistering fastball. He was named most outstanding athlete of his graduating class of 1962 and was Pennsylvania’s outstanding pitcher in 1961.

Scott was a member of the class of 1966 at Princeton University, graduating cum laude. He majored in psychology, pursuing the emerging discipline of neuroscience. He continued to distinguish himself as a baseball player, setting two Princeton pitching records and was honored as pitcher of the decade for the 1960s. His membership in the Princeton Chapel Choir proved life-changing when the group travelled to Wellesley College for a joint concert in the spring of 1964. As a second tenor, he was placed next to the second sopranos, one of whom was Bonnie Burton Kime, who became his wife on June 17, 1967. They would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary next month.

Upon graduation from Princeton, Scott joined the Ph.D. program in biological psychology at Duke University, specializing in the neural mechanisms of taste and the neurophysiology of feeding and reward. In 1970, he became assistant professor of psychology at the University of Delaware and rose through the ranks to professor. He served as department chair from 1983 to 1992 and as associate dean for Research and Graduate Studies from 1992 to 1997. His neuroscientific research was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and other agencies and bolstered by sabbatical leaves to Oxford in the United Kingdom and to Okazaki and Osaka, Japan.

Scott was a pioneer in the neuroscience of taste sensation. His work addressed some of the most fundamental questions in his field, including how taste coding in the brain allows humans to distinguish one kind of food from another, and how taste neurons change their responses to help an animal survive. His many articles appeared in journals such as Chemical Senses, The Journal of Neurophysiology and Physiology and Behavior. In addition to publishing scientific articles throughout his career, he had just finished revisions for a popular scientific book called Quarks to Quasars: Touring Physical Science, under contract with Columbia University Press.

An extraordinarily gifted communicator, Scott enjoyed public speaking. His “San Diego Science” programs for KPBS are still remembered. He also served as SDSU host for the Kyoto Prize Laureates in advanced technology. As he introduced these awardees, he was able to make complex research understandable to audiences that included the general public and students of diverse ages and expertise. He continued as master of ceremonies for the Kyoto Prize opening ceremonies and gala dinner every year. For his service and accomplishments as an educator involved with United States-Japan relations, Scott was awarded the Reichauer International Education Award by the Japan Society of San Diego and Tijuana in 2016.

Since his retirement, Scott has enjoyed playing tennis, running, and the cultural riches of Balboa Park, having recently moved nearby. He served as chair of the Friends of Balboa Park and remained active with the Ethics Center. He was at Bonnie’s side in the San Diego Women’s March in January and was profoundly concerned about sustaining the ecosystem.

Scott was especially proud of his family. He is survived by his wife, Bonnie, also a retired professor at the University of Delaware and former chair of SDSU’s Department of Women’s Studies; his brother David Scott (Susanne); three children: Heather (Damon Jones), Ethan (Margie Mayfield), and Heidi (Colleen Flaherty); and six grandchildren:  Evan and Avery Jones, Jasper and Malcolm Scott, and Thomas and Rose Flaherty.

The family is planning a celebration of his life in Balboa Park this summer or early fall.