Leadership and Legacy

Author: Omar Dedovic

Last Updated:

Category: Featured

Growing up in an environment where academic potential was often overlooked, Thomas Kline (’66) would rise to become a decorated officer, a successful business leader and a passionate philanthropist.

Reflecting on his early academic life, Thomas recounts a moment that fueled his determination: “I wanted to go to college. And when I went to the principal, he said, ‘You can’t. You’re not college material.’ So, I said I’m going.” This determination led him to the University of Chattanooga, prior to its transition to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a decision that would shape his life.

Thomas found a nurturing environment at UC and fondly remembers his initial interactions with the faculty, stating, “When I went to the head of chemistry and said I never had any chemistry in high school, he said it’s not a problem. Chemistry is chemistry.”

Thomas Kline (Third on the left) with fellow Blue Key members.

In addition to helpful faculty, Thomas found his time in ROTC significantly shaped his values. He recalls a humorous yet meaningful interaction during his commissioning, “In the ROTC program, there was Capt. Glasgow. When I got commissioned, I guess there was a little, I don’t know, sweat on my brow, and he said, ‘Lieutenant, wipe the sweat off.’ I said, ‘Sir, I don’t have a handkerchief.’ He said, ‘An officer always carries one.'” This incident, though small, signifies the attention to detail and readiness instilled in him through his military training.

After completing his Engineering Master’s Degree at the University of Missouri, he joined the Army Corps of Engineers Officers Training program. His first assignment was in Rock Island, Illinois, where he played a crucial role in flood control on the Upper Mississippi River.

His innovative work in developing technologies to prevent ice formation around lock gates earned him the Army Commendation Medal. Later, as a Platoon Leader in the 84th Engineer Battalion in Vietnam, he demonstrated leadership and ingenuity, earning the Vietnam Civil Works medal for rebuilding a village marketplace.

Post-military, Thomas embarked on a successful career at Pfizer Inc., leading to significant philanthropic investment after his retirement.

Despite his professional success, Thomas never forgot the formative impact of his time at UC, now UTC, and has continually supported the College of Engineering and Computer Science and ROTC. His generosity is not just financial; he actively engages with students and faculty, reflecting his personal maxim, “community betterment through education.”

Thomas Kline’s journey from a student seeking guidance to a leader committed to giving back illustrates the impact of education, military service and a focus on leaving a legacy for future generations.

First Lieutenant of US Army Corps of Engineers (1967-1969).