Dr. John Edwin Thomas, the fourth chancellor of Appalachian State University, was born April 23, 1931 in Fort Worth, Texas. He earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Kansas in 1953. He earned his law degree in 1961 from the University of Missouri at Kansas City and received an M.S. in research and development management in 1965 and a D.B.A. in business administration in 1970 from Florida State University. Thomas served two years in the Marine Corps and one year in the U.S. Navy.
Thomas was a manager at NASA for seven years where, as chief of the requirements and resources office, he was responsible for 500 civil service and 5000 contractor personnel. Thomas resigned from NASA to head the business department at East Texas State University in 1970. From 1972 to 1974 he served as dean of ETSU's College of Science and Technology.
Thomas came to ASU in 1974 as vice chancellor for academic affairs and oversaw the development of the Center for Instructional Development, the establishment of satellite campuses in New York and Washington, D.C., undergraduate accreditation for the Walker College of Business and an administrative internship program involving faculty in decision making and information gathering.
Thomas was recommended for the chancellor's position by the board of trustees and was appointed by the UNC board of Governors in 1979. During his tenure Thomas extended capital improvements by over $20,000,000 and increased the number of faculty to improve the student-teacher ratio. Thomas retired in 1993.