Former dean remembered as visionary leader, educator

J. Thomas Regan

J. Thomas Regan


Friends and colleagues pay tribute to the former dean in Facebook group: "Remembering Tom Regan."

J. Thomas Regan, who as dean shepherded the Texas A&M College of Architecture through a formative decade, passed away peacefully March 5, 2015 in his Cape Cod, Mass. home. He was 74 years old.

A memorial service for Regan, professor emeritus of architecture, will be held this spring in Osterville, Mass. on a date to be announced.

A preeminent architectural educator, Regan touched the lives and helped launch the careers of generations of students and faculty as dean of four major university architecture schools: Texas A&M University, Auburn University, North Carolina State University, and the University of Miami. He was also an instrumental professor in the formation of the architecture program at Virginia Tech from 1967 – 1984, where he also served as chair of the school’s foundation program, assistant dean and director of the Washington Alexandria Architecture Center.

“Tom’s leadership, teaching and camaraderie framed his persona,” said Jack Davis, dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech. “He will always be remembered as a mentor, colleague and friend to many of us in in the college and to the thousands of alumni he taught and influenced.”

Regan served as dean of the Texas A&M College of Architecture, the largest college of its kind in the nation, from November 1998 through July 2008. Under his decade of leadership, the college expanded and enhanced virtually every teaching, research and service outcome measure and more than tripled its endowment.

“Dean Regan was both a pragmatist and a visionary. He identified a destination of excellence and then charted a feasible course,” said Mark Clayton, who served as executive associate dean during part of Regan’s tenure. “For many of us, his personal warmth, enthusiasm, generosity, and mischievousness will always be remembered.”

In 2008, at the end of his deanship, Regan was cited as one of the nation's "25 Most Admired Educators" in a nationwide survey of leading design practitioners and firm presidents conducted by the DesignIntelligence journal.

A lifelong student of managerial practices and strategies, Regan was a voracious reader of management books. Jorge Vanegas, who succeeded Regan as dean of the College of Architecture at Texas A&M, recalled one of his predecessor’s maxims as a source of inspiration: “Take away the mystery, and unleash the magic.”

“This captures in a profound way who Tom was,” said Vanegas. “If you made sure that people knew what to do (in terms of responsibilities, goals, and objectives), and how to do it (in terms of a clear structure, approach, and process), this would establish a common, robust, and reliable foundation for everyone to excel at the highest level and thus achieve great outcomes.

“What Tom left behind took away the mystery,” he continued, “so that today, the college can unleash the magic in all that students, faculty, and staff do. That is his legacy.”

While dean at Texas A&M, Regan spearheaded the creation of the college’s Department of Visualization, which today offers an undergraduate degree, a master of science degree and the university’s first master of fine arts degree.

“Tom was a very good friend to Viz,” recalled Karen Hillier, professor emerita. “He loved all who work with their hands — designers, fabricators, artists.”

He considered the Texas A&M College of Architecture to be globally preeminent and viewed international study and research as a catalyst for global collaboration in both education and professional practice. He launched the college’s mandatory “Semester Away” program, wherein undergraduates are required to spend a long semester off campus either studying abroad, engaged in an internship or studying at another university.

“Study abroad helps students broaden their view of the world, and after their experience many students go on to work for various companies across the globe,” said Harold Adams ’61, an outstanding alumnus of the College of Architecture who established three interdisciplinary professorships at the college while Regan was dean. “International programs also help spread the word of Texas A&M’s many global contributions.”

Regan championed interdisciplinary collaboration in education and research. He worked hard to elevate college research initiatives and established the college’s annual faculty research symposium, which is now a 17-year-old college tradition.

An advocate for tactile as well as digital training, Regan saw value in hands-on work, making, building and creating. To that end, he was instrumental in securing the 12-acre site at the Texas A&M Riverside Campus that is now home to the college’s Automated Fabrication & Design Lab, a multi-use facility and large-scale studio that provides students and faculty with a testing ground for college research and education initiatives.

Popularly known as the "Architecture Ranch," the facility was the staging ground for Texas A&M's award-winning entry in the U.S. Department of Energy's 2007 Solar Decathlon competition, another major college project promoted by Regan.

Regan also oversaw $6 million building renovations at the Langford Architecture Center that included the creation of the much-needed and heavily utilized Preston Geren Auditorium, a large hall for visiting lecturers and large classes.

As an educator, Regan’s scholarship focused on design education, visual languages, and design methodology. He also conducted research on modern campus planning innovations. He made presentations at universities and professional meetings in the United States and abroad and often served as a juror for design competitions and awards programs at the state and national level.

At Texas A&M, Regan served as a member of the steering committee that coordinated the university’s award-winning campus master plan and was a key contributor to Texas A&M’s Vision 2020 initiative. As campus planner for Texas A&M, he provided oversight for the design and construction of $900 million in new buildings on the university’s 5,200-acre main campus.

In 2008, the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council established the J. Thomas Regan Interdisciplinary Faculty Prize, an endowed award that honors in perpetuity Regan’s decade of outstanding leadership while promoting interdisciplinary initiatives.

The prize, which recognizes Regan's legacy of providing and encouraging interdisciplinary opportunities for college students and faculty, is awarded annually to a member of the College of Architecture faculty who has demonstrated a commitment to interdisciplinary teaching and/or research in the built or virtual environment disciplines.

Regan earned an undergraduate degree in architecture from Auburn University and a graduate degree at the Architectural Association Graduate School in London, England. He also practiced at architecture firms in Alabama, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

He was a member of 18 national accreditation teams for professional programs in architecture and landscape architecture in the United States and Canada. He served as national president of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, on the board of directors of the South Florida and North Carolina chapters of the American Institute of Architects and on the boards of numerous community groups. He consulted on major architectureal projects for the states of Alabama, Ohio and Maryland.

He is survived by his wife, Lillian Woo, children John T. Regan, Jr., Caroline D. Regan and Sean B. Regan, stepdaughters Dr. Lillian G. Woo and Dr. Emily Jane Woo and their spouses Dr. David Buchholz and Dr. Michael Di Cuccio.

Regan is also survived by grandchildren Allie Acierno, Fiona Brown and Thomas DiCuccio.

posted March 6, 2015