Pharmacy alumnus marks 50 years of leadership society he started at Auburn

Published: April 14, 2015
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While Charlie Thomas was in his final year at Auburn University, he got the idea to create an organization to specifically identify fellow pharmacy students who had distinguished themselves as leaders.

"I was tapped to join ODK (Omicron Delta Kappa national leadership society) and thought the pharmacy school needed something similar to recognize, foster and stimulate pharmacy leadership," he said.

Thomas took his idea to the then Dean Sam Coker and the pharmacy school student council, of which he served as president, and received their approval. Knowing that he wanted the new society to represent pharmacy, leadership and service, Thomas suggested using the Greek letters, Phi Lambda Sigma.

By the spring of 1965, faculty had selected members for the Alpha chapter and officers were elected. Charter members of the new pharmacy leadership society showed their appreciation for their founder, naming Thomas honorary president.

Thomas would graduate that summer and leave the Plains before Phi Lambda Sigma passed its probationary period and was an officially recognized organization on campus.

And yet, it has flourished.

Of the 139 schools and colleges of pharmacy across the country and Puerto Rico, 118 have Phi Lambda Sigma chapters. Thomas said he believes the next step is to expand globally.

Thomas returned to Auburn in March before celebrating the Phi Lambda Sigma 50th anniversary at the American Pharmacists Association Annual Meeting in San Diego. He was accompanied by Charles Darling, a former member of Auburn's pharmacy faculty and retired associate dean.

The pair never overlapped at Auburn – Darling joined the faculty in 1969, four years after Thomas graduated – but they are connected through Phi Lambda Sigma.

Around the time Darling became associate dean in the late 70s, he became involved with Phi Lambda Sigma and helped broaden its reach nationally. The first five chapters were in the south.

"I'm not surprised it has grown the way it has in 50 years. It always seemed to have a life of its own," Darling said. "No one can give you a greater honor than calling you a leader."

Looking back on five decades, Thomas called Phi Lambda Sigma "probably one of the best ideas I ever had." He said he is particularly proud that the Beta chapter was formed at Samford University's McWhorter School of Pharmacy.

"Phi Lambda Sigma was birthed in Alabama by Alabama pharmacy schools," he said. "It's good for Alabama and great for Auburn. How many national organizations start at your university?"

Thomas retired Feb. 1 after 18 years as director of state pharmacy services with the Alabama Department of Public Health. Before that, he spent 32 years in community pharmacy in Huntsville.

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