Remembering Jay Thomson

Friday, October 12, 2018
Jay Thomson

James A. (Jay) Thomson, professor emeritus in Waterloo’s Department of Kinesiology, passed away October 9.

Thomson studied chemistry at McMaster as an undergraduate and master’s student, and completed his PhD at Waterloo in 1970. Following a post-doctoral stint at Iowa State University, he returned to Waterloo in 1972 as an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology.

Thomson recollected during his induction in the University’s 25-Year club: "I was returning to a campus and people I knew well. The difference was being hired in kinesiology -- a new program with a name and identity problem ('what is it?') but huge potential and excitement." The kin department was scattered over half the campus then, and Thomson's first office was in the basement of Chemistry II. "I wasn't sure what I could contribute," he said, "but was certain that I would continue learning. What was a five-year trial in my mind, stretched a bit longer."

An expert in nutrition and the biochemistry of exercise, Thomson’s research focused on how metabolism and contractile events in skeletal muscle are affected by acid accumulation during intense work. He taught generations of kinesiology students the foundations of biochemistry, human nutrition, and adaptive physiology. Thomson embraced technology and was one of the first in the Faculty to teach both online and in the classroom. Says former chair and dean Bob Norman, “I greatly admired the high quality, meticulous development of the evidence-based nutrition course he developed for the department. A huge demand evolved for this course and thousands of students from all Faculties took it in class or by distance education.”

Thomson tirelessly served the University in a multitude of other ways -- including faculty representative on Senate, associate chair for undergraduate affairs, and more than 10 years as chair of the University Committee on Student Appeals (UCSA), the body that deals with discipline issues and grievances.

Outside of the classroom and boardroom, he could be found leaving Blue North at 11:40 a.m. for his almost daily run with a tight-knit group of equally competitive campus comrades, clocking an estimated 130,000 km over more than a third of a century.

Upon retirement in 2006, he was active on the UWaterloo Retiree Association Board and took up the baton as editor of the WATtimes retiree newsletter, keeping thousands of faculty and staff connected and informed. His dedication to students continued as he and wife Shirley, former executive assistant in the Faculty of Mathematics, provided ongoing support to, and promotion of, the Waterloo Retirees’ Scholarship.

“Jay was kind, generous, unassuming, a real team player whose honesty and intelligence were clearly evident and admired,” says colleague and friend Howie Green. “We have lost a very dear friend.”