Reynolds taps chief – Judge will be new executive

By Todd Cohen

The Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation in Winston-Salem has named Superior Court Judge Thomas W. Ross, director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, as its new executive director.

Ross, 49, begins work Jan. 1, 2001.

Tom Lambeth, who has been the foundation’s executive director since 1978 and had planned to retire in June, has agreed to stay through the end of the year so Ross can complete ongoing projects in his state job.

The choice of Ross signals that the foundation will keep working to shape public policy in the state by supporting innovative and progressive grass-roots initiatives.

“This job gives somebody like me who’s very interested in public policy the opportunity to learn about and have an impact on a broad array of issues that are facing North Carolina,” Ross says.

The biggest policy challenges, he says, involve race relations, poverty, education and the environment.

In naming Ross, trustees of the $500 million-asset Winston-Salem funder have tapped another politically savvy leader who cut his teeth in the halls of government.

Before becoming the foundation’s executive director in 1978, Lambeth was an aide to Gov. Terry Sanford and to former U.S. Rep. Richardson Preyer – both Democrats.

Ross was administrative assistant to former Democratic U.S. Rep. Robin Britt before becoming a Superior Court judge in 1984. Last June, then-Chief Justice Burley Mitchell, a Democrat, appointed Ross director of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

Ross was reappointed by Henry Frye – a Democrat who became chief justice on Mitchell’s retirement and whose wife, Shirley, is a Reynolds trustee.

In a statement, trustees chairman Jock Tate said Ross “has the proven ability to develop and implement complex public policy initiatives and the desire to make positive change.”

The Reynolds foundation, one of the largest foundations in North Carolina, will hand out more than $20 million in grants this year.

Joe Kilpatrick and Valeria Lee, both of whom are believed to have been in the running for the top job, will continue at the foundation as senior executives.

Ross, a Greensboro native, has a bachelor’s degree from Davidson College and a juris doctor degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

He also has practiced law, focusing on civil litigation and employment law, and was an assistant professor of law and government at the Institute of Government at UNC-CH.

He was a founding board member of Summit House, a Greensboro nonprofit that works with female offenders and small children, and received a Reynolds grant.

Ross also was involved in a court system project that received a Reynolds grant to certify court interpreters, translate legal forms into Spanish and improve access to the courts for English-speaking people in North Carolina.

He lives in Greensboro with his wife, Susan, a community volunteer and former executive director of the Greensboro Bar Association. They have two children, Tommy, a Davidson graduate who plans to attend Union Theological Seminary, and Mary Kathryn, a junior at Davidson.

Ross says his new job will be a “dream come true.”

“I’ve told my wife for a number of years that there were only two jobs I’d leave my job as a judge for – executive director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and commissioner of baseball,” he says. “This is an ideal way to have a positive impact on North Carolina and to work with a terrific board of trustees.”

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