In Memory

Carol Tomlinson (Keasey) - Class Of 1960

Carol Tomlinson (Keasey)

UC Merced's founding chancellor dies of cancer 

Published: Monday, Oct. 12, 2009 - 11:10 am

FRESNO, Calif. -- Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, a lifelong educator who looked at a Merced farm field and envisioned a University of California research university, has died in Georgia of breast cancer five months after the first freshmen class graduated from the school. She was 66.

Tomlinson-Keasey was chancellor of UC Merced until 2006, when she stepped down to return to teaching and to write a book about the building of the school. She had retired in 2007 and moved to Decatur, Ga., where she died Saturday.

The university's current chancellor, Steve Kang, said the campus would not exist had she not been able to persuade a reluctant Legislature the region was underserved by the University of California system.

Tomlinson-Keasey was vice provost for academic initiatives in the office of the university system president when she was appointed in 1998 to lead planning efforts for the state's 10th UC campus.

She overcame budget obstacles and environmental concerns to preside over the university's groundbreaking in 2002 and grand opening in 2005.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke in May at the commencement ceremony.

This year, school officials named the central quadrangle the Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Quad. She and her husband, Dr. Blake Keasey, were awarded the UC Merced Chancellor's Medal for exceptional contributions at the May commencement.

A developmental psychologist, Tomlinson-Keasey wrote for over 40 years about child development, how gifted children realize their cognitive potential, and career development among women.

She joined the University of California system in 1977 as an associate professor of psychology at UC Riverside. In 1994 she was appointed dean of the UC Davis College of Letters and Sciences. In 1995, she was named vice provost for academic planning and personnel.

She moved to the UC Office of the President in 1997 as vice provost for academic initiatives and assumed planning responsibilities for UC Merced the following year. In 1999 she became the first female founding chancellor of a major research university.

Along with her husband, she is survived by two adult children and several grandchildren. 


Carol Tomlinson-Keasey

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10/15/09 11:31 AM #1    

Barry McCloskey (1960)

Carol was a gifted and prolific achiever. It's a shame that we have lost someone who made such great contributions. She will be missed. Barry, Class of '60

10/15/09 11:34 AM #2    

Phil Davidson (1960)

Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, a distinguished developmental psychologist, recruited key administrators and faculty to UC Merced and helped choose the school mascot.

By Dennis McLellan

October 13, 2009

Carol Tomlinson-Keasey, who became the first female founding chancellor of a UC campus when she was named to head UC Merced in 1999 before the university broke ground, has died. She was 66.

Tomlinson-Keasey, a distinguished developmental psychologist, died Saturday at her home in Decatur, Ga., from complications related to breast cancer, a university spokeswoman said.

UC Merced Chancellor Steve Kang, who succeeded Tomlinson-Keasey in 2007, said in a statement that "UC Merced would not exist were it not for her visionary leadership, her tireless determination and her remarkable gift of persuasion."

A longtime UC faculty member and administrator, Tomlinson-Keasey was vice provost for academic initiatives in the University of California office of the president in 1998 when she was asked to direct planning for what would become the first new UC campus in four decades.

In the process of leading the effort to build the first UC campus in the San Joaquin Valley, Tomlinson-Keasey faced major hurdles, including a site change and a reduction in the size of the campus because of environmental concerns, political leaders who called the campus a "boondoggle" and a state budget crisis that resulted in a one-year delay in its opening.

The campus opened in September 2005 with 875 students.

"There were lots of times people said this day would never come, but it has and we're just very glad it's here," Tomlinson-Keasey told a cheering crowd of 4,000 dignitaries, community members, parents and students.

Described in a 2005 story in The Times as a "poised, focused woman with a dry sense of humor," Tomlinson-Keasey had "lobbied legislators, talked up the campus with regents and delivered scores of speeches to service clubs and other groups throughout the San Joaquin Valley."

She also recruited and hired UC Merced's key administrators and faculty members and helped develop its academic program -- as well as helping decide where roads and sewer lines would go and helping choose the school mascot: the area's native golden bobcat.

Tomlinson-Keasey faced a personal challenge when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and had to undergo months of treatment. She would often start her 12-hour workdays with a stop at her doctor's office for radiation therapy, which she jokingly referred to as visits to the "tanning salon."

"It's fair to say that given what she was dealing with on the personal level, not everyone would have been willing to stay there and even try to continue," M.R.C. Greenwood, UC's systemwide provost and a former colleague of Tomlinson-Keasey at UC Davis, told The Times in 2005. "She's a woman who has great personal fortitude, a very quiet and personal strength."

Tomlinson-Keasey resigned as chancellor in 2006, saying she wanted to return to teaching and writing. She retired from the university a year later.

The daughter of a career U.S. Army officer, she was born Oct. 15, 1942, in Washington, D.C., and moved a dozen times before graduating from high school in France.

She received a bachelor's degree in political science from Pennsylvania State University, a master's in psychology from Iowa State and a doctorate in developmental psychology from UC Berkeley.

She also completed postdoctoral studies at the Institute of Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado.

She joined the UC system in 1977 as an associate professor of psychology at UC Riverside.

She became a full professor in 1980 and held faculty and administrative appointments at UC Riverside through 1992, the year she was named vice provost and professor at UC Davis.

She was appointed dean of the UC Davis College of Letters and Sciences in 1994 and was named vice provost for academic planning and personnel in 1995. She moved to the UC Office of the President in 1997.

As a developmental psychologist, she was the author of three books and dozens of articles, monographs and book chapters on subjects such as child and full-life development and how gifted children realize their cognitive potential.

Tomlinson-Keasey is survived by her husband, Blake Keasey; her children, Amber Peters and Kai; her brothers, John, Gene and Alen Tomlinson; and four grandchildren.

Memorial services are pending.

Instead of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Fund. Gifts may be made online or sent to: The Carol Tomlinson-Keasey Fund, UC Merced Foundation, Gift Administration Office, University of California, Merced, 5200 N. Lake Rd., Merced, CA 95343.

04/10/11 07:35 PM #3    

Anne Hines (Reese) (1961)

 Remember her as a lovely girl with a wonderful attitude.  She was accessible to younger students.  So sorry.

09/25/11 05:57 PM #4    

Helen (Nickname Joy ) Stafford (Walkington) (1960)

Even to today I think of Carol as my friend at PAHS.  She was so smart, but  also had a good sense  of humor and a funny laugh to go along with it!  I  bought an antique  plate with paintings of funny French characters, it  reminds me of Carol and think about her each time I look at it.

A wonderful woman and again, a very good friend at Paris American. 

To Carol and her family my love, 


06/29/13 04:52 PM #5    

Hazel Bonita Gault (Pardo) (1959)

Carol  and I were majorettes at Paris American High.  We did sleepovers to create and practice routines. She was always better.  I thought she would go far.  She could party the night before an exam and keep a 4.0.

Bonnye Gault 1959

07/09/13 12:54 AM #6    

Barry McCaffrey (1960)

Carol was such a gifted student and a very caring and attractive girl.


Not surprised to learn of her spectacular success in her career as an educator and scholar and administrator.


Rest in peace.


Barry McCaffrey

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