Life Story / Obituary
A loving husband, devoted father and grandfather, distinguished scholar, and avid sports enthusiast (both participant, and spectator), Thomas L. Kent passed away at age 71 on June 9, 2019, after a heroic battle with cancer at Rose Arbor, Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
An unpretentious man, Tom valued honesty and integrity above all else—both in his relationships with others and in his professional life. He was also blessed with a wicked sense of humor, which he used in a special way to express his affection, lighten a dark mood, or help punctuate the absurd in everyday life. For those loved ones and special friends he leaves behind, he will live on as a model of wisdom, guidance, and unconditional love.
The youngest in a large family, Tom was born on August 30, 1947 in Marshall, North Carolina, son of the late Herbert Leo Kent and the late Grace Belle Kent. His siblings, who predecease him include Haley Fore, Ervin Kent, Herbert Leo Kent, Betty Fore, and Brenda Allen.
He was devoted to his wife, Charlotte (Charie) Thralls (enjoying 43 years together) as well as to his one child, Thomas L. Kent II (wife Mara), and two granddaughters, Grace Alexandra Kent and Celia Jade Kent.
Although Tom retained many fond memories (and a slight accent) from his early years in North Carolina, he spent the majority of his youth in the Ann Arbor, Michigan area, where he attended elementary and high school. He remained in Michigan to earn his B.A. in English from the University of Michigan (1969). After a brief tenure as a high school teacher and coach, Tom pursued graduate studies at Purdue University where he earned his Ph.D. (1980). Tom went on to hold administrative and tenured professorial positions at several universities, including Miami University (Ohio), Iowa State University, Utah State University, and Western Michigan University.
Tom enjoyed a long and distinguished professional career. With a disciplinary focus in philosophy, writing, and rhetoric, he delighted in developing courses, mentoring students, and directing doctoral dissertations for students at Iowa State from 1984-1999, where both he and Charie were professors. Few aspects of academic life gave him more pleasure than seeing his doctoral students land positions at top universities and successfully publish their work. It was at Iowa State that Tom began to assume administrative roles, serving as Chair of the English Department. He and Charie then moved on to Utah State University, where Tom served as Graduate Dean from 1999-2004. When the opportunity arose to be closer to his son and granddaughters back in Michigan, Tom and Charie accepted positions at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, with Tom assuming the position of Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Tom retired from Western Michigan University in 2017.
Tom possessed a keen intellect and took pleasure in challenging both himself and others to ponder theoretical and philosophical issues. He found great satisfaction in scholarly writing and the exchange of ideas with peers in his field. In addition to authoring or editing five books and dozens of articles and presentations, he served as editor of two different academic journals. In recognition of his influence, Tom received numerous university as well as national research awards over the course of his career. Tom also continually sought new opportunities to expand his education, accepting a Fulbright Scholar position at the University of Tampere, Finland (1989), as well as invitations to attend National Endowment for the Humanities Institutes on Heidegger, and on critical interpretation at the University of California at Santa Cruz and on literary theory and criticism at Northwestern University.
Despite a robust career, Tom embraced other passions. He was a music lover whose granddaughters coveted his playlists. He also played the saxophone, pursued photography (with a professional studio set up in the basement of his Kalamazoo home), appreciated and collected sports cars, and was a gifted athlete, who at various stages in his life participated in baseball, basketball, tennis, and golf. When he and Charie met as graduate students in the Department of English at Purdue in the mid-70s, he taught her to play tennis, and they went on to play singles together (she lost) and in mixed-doubles tournaments (often winning) for several years. He then taught (or tried to teach) her golf; they enjoyed playing together throughout summers in Michigan, traveling Up North or elsewhere that Tom had scouted a promising course. Up until a month before his unexpected death, they enjoyed playing together in the winter at their second home in a golf community in Naples, Florida. They were inseparable both on and off the course and were incredibly happy together.
A generous man with an enormous capacity for love, the true highlight of Tom’s life was being a father and grandfather. His son, Tom II, was central to his life, a deeply treasured friend who shared his father’s sense of humor. Tom took deep pride in his son’s successes and enjoyed every moment of their companionship, whether playing golf or cards, helping him coach youth softball, discussing sports and their shared mania for University of Michigan sports, or simply enjoying quiet moments together. Tom was proud of his University of Michigan legacy and lived to see his son graduate from, and both of his granddaughters matriculate into, the University of Michigan. He will be remembered as a father and grandfather who provided friendship and comfort, valuable wisdom and advice, and tenderness. His energy and enthusiasm for his son and granddaughters was limitless, and Tom was always present for meaningful moments in their lives. He shared with them important lessons about values, patience, and humility, through both his words and deeds. While Tom’s presence was commanding, and to some playfully intimidating, he formed sincere and loving bonds with the children in his life through his unique ability to laugh at himself and be affectionately vulnerable.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan (email@example.com) or to the American Cancer Society at (www.cancer.org).