Liberal Arts Education Brings Passion to Problem Solving

By Samtha Smith

C. Thomas Work (ΦBK, Dickinson College, 1974) received the 2013 Thun Award in recognition of his dedicated service to organizations in Reading, Pennsylvania, the town he’s called home since 1977. A Duke-educated estate planning lawyer with Stevens & Lee, Work brought his passion for music and his professional skills to his leadership roles in the Reading Musical Foundation and the Reading Health System. 

“I was surprised, overwhelmed, and humbled,” said Work, in response to the unexpended honor.

“As one of the leading estate planning attorneys in Berks County, Tom has helped clients direct millions of dollars toward charitable purpose,” said Kevin Murphy, President of the Berks County Community Foundation. “Tom brings an extraordinary combination of passion for the community and professional expertise to his community work.”   

Work’s interest in music fueled his desire to participate in the Reading Musical Foundation, which, among other things, funds college scholarships and supports local performances of classical music. After becoming president and board chair in 2003, he expanded the foundation’s financial abilities to promote music scholarships and outreach programs by successfully describing to donors how music education enhances students’ academic, philanthropic, and moral development. 

He had studied music at Ithaca College before transferring to Dickinson as a sophomore, Work explained. “Over three decades later, my love of music and my yearning as a freshman music major to share the joys music performance had given me in high school re-emerged and left an organization under my leadership doing a hundred times more good than I ever would have accomplished as a music teacher over an entire lifetime,” he added.

To meet the evolving and complex needs of the Reading Health System, Work collaborated to implement structural changes that increased the efficiency of the Reading Hospital:

“I am about to finish a term of nearly four years as Board Chair of that organization during which we replaced senior management, rebranded the organization, adopted a state-of-the art governance structure within the health system’s Board of Directors that has produced a high-functioning, engaged Board, regenerated a culture of inclusive decision-making in partnership with the medical staff, implemented electronic health records, and progressed quickly toward clinical integration and collaborations with other area health care providers within a highly complex industry whose foundation, at the moment, is set in quicksand,” Work explained.

Work believes his liberal arts education gave him the tools to be an effective leader, a message he will further explore during his upcoming graduation address at Wyomissing Area High School. When he talks to this year’s graduating seniors, Work said he’ll focus on the idea “that the most worthy ‘deliverable’ in education is a liberal arts education, because that alone equips students for complex problem-solving by immersing them in a variety of disciplines, developing critical thinking, breeding intellectual tolerance, and encouraging teamwork in finding solutions.” 

Learn more about the Thun Award by visiting the Berks County Community Foundation website. 

Samantha Smith is a junior at Rhodes College majoring in English. Rhodes College is home to the Gamma of Tennessee chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.