Dr. Barbara Thomas: Following Her Heart

Dr. Barbara Thomas hopes you know that your goals aren’t subject to prior authorization.

Dr. Barbara ThomasThat what others tell you is possible doesn’t matter nearly as much as what’s in your heart. It’s a lesson that’s changed the course of her life, and she hopes you’ll remember it, too.

“You tell them for me and for you, ‘Yes I can. Yes I can,’” says Dr. Thomas, 72, of Boiling Springs, South Carolina, who earned her bachelor’s degree in Business from Wilmington College in 1995 after three decades in the workforce.

“When it comes to education, the only thing that limits you is yourself.”

She’s taken that message of encouragement and self-development to 40 nations in her second career as a missionary and motivational speaker to women’s and youth ministries.

That message has taken her a long way from a Philadelphia high school in the mid-1960s, where a counselor who saw her researching college scholarships advised her to apply for department store jobs instead. “He told me, ‘Black kids from the projects do not go to college,’” she recalls. “I had capabilities, but I didn’t realize them.”

Eventually, though, they made themselves known. By the early 1990s, she’d worked her way up from answering phones and directing calls at DuPont to arranging access to the IT department’s databases. The company announced that it would reimburse employees’ tuition for degrees in Business, not just Chemical Engineering. “And I decided to jump on the opportunity before they changed their minds,” she says.

She’d passed age 40. She was working full time and raising a teenage daughter following the death of her husband. Still, she transferred credits she’d earned at St. Joseph’s University and Delaware Technical Community College to Wilmington College and attended classes at night. “It was a lot,” she says. She graduated in less than two years, and when she did, her name was on the dean’s list.

“Wilmington College gave me the ability to put it all together,” she says. “I wasn’t basing my education on what other people said. I thought, ‘If I can do all this, I can do just about anything.’”

She also thought about what she might be able to do to benefit someone else. After retiring from DuPont, earning a master’s degree in Biblical Studies and a doctorate in Divinity prepared her to spread the word worldwide. “Praise is what I do,” she says.

The impact of her Wilmington College education sent ripples throughout her family. Neither of her parents completed high school, but her daughter and — as of May 2019 — her granddaughter have both earned college degrees. “That’s three generations of educated women,” says Dr. Thomas.

While a stroke has limited her ability to travel over the past year, she’s continuing to work with a pastor who’s providing support to Haitian orphanages, and she’s still hoping to bring her message to ministries in South Africa, Switzerland, and Israel again.

“I’m blessed that I was able to step up to the plate,” she says, “and I’m blessed to be able to challenge someone else.”