Dr. Womack, deciding that he was approaching retirement age as the Chair of Surgery, approached Dean Isaac Taylor about the selection of a successor. Dean Taylor appointed a search committee chaired by Dr. William Cromartie, Associate Dean and Professor of Medicine. Three external candidates and one internal candidate were interviewed in Chapel Hill: Dr. W. Gerald Austen from Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. John Najarian from the University of California at San Francisco, Dr. Walter F. Ballinger from the University of Pennsylvania, and Dr. Colin G. Thomas, Jr., who had been on faculty in the Department since its inception in 1952. In October 1966, Dean Taylor invited Dr. Thomas to succeed Dr. Nathan A. Womack as Chair of the Department of Surgery. The remaining three finalists subsequently accepted chairs of surgery at other institutions.
For 18 years, Dr. Thomas provided leadership and stewardship to a growing surgical service. He also established himself as an internationally-respected endocrine surgeon and surgical innovator. He was named the Byah Thomason-Sandford Doxey Professor of Surgery in 1983, and was the recipient of the University of Chicago's Distinguished Serrvice Award in 1982, and the University of North Carolina's Medical Alumni Distinguished Faculty Award in 1984. He was the Norma Berryhill Distinguished Lecturer in 1989, a member of Alpha Omega Alpha, and a recipient of the reputed Fleming Fuller Award from UNC Hospitals. In 1997, with Mary Jane Kagarise, he authored "Legends and Legacies," a comprehensive history of the Department of Surgery at UNC.
Dr. Thomas continued to work with the Department through age 95, still a sharp mind and a kind hand assisting with the guidance of junior surgeons. and sharing his vast knowledge with colleagues. He passed away in 2014, at the age of 96.
Reference: Kagarise, MJ, Thomas, Colin CG. LEGENDS AND LEGACIES - A Look Inside Four Decades of Surgery at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Department of Surgery, Chapel Hill, NC. February 1997.