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On June 19, 2015, devoted brother Thomas M. Lofton (Butler/Indiana), entered the Chapter Eternal; he was 86 years old. Tom lived an extraordinary life dedicated to caring for the needs of others, advancing the mission of charitable organizations and mentoring individuals toward success in their own lives.  

E.G. White (Indiana), Hall of Honor member and former Regent, was a longtime friend and colleague of Tom’s. He says, “Tom exemplified for me what the Creed of our Fraternity is all about. He believed in the Life of Love, walked in the Way of Honor, served in the Light of Truth. That’s who Tom Lofton was, and I hold him in the utmost highest regard.” 

At his death, Tom was chairman of the Lilly Endowment, one of the largest private foundations in the country. In this role, he oversaw the distribution of more than $7 billion in grants to support education, community development and religious organizations, mostly in Indiana. Tom was first hired by the Lilly Endowment as chief legal counsel in 1970. He personally knew two of the founders (J.K. Lilly, Jr. and Eli Lilly). He went on to serve as vice chairman, as president for a short time and finally, chairman for the past 22 years. 

In a recent statement, Endowment President and CEO N. Clay Robbins said about Tom, “His unrivaled intellect, wisdom and profound sense of loyalty to the values of the Endowment’s founders at all times were evident in his guidance of the Endowment’s affairs. A man of deep Christian faith, it was important to him that each year a significant portion of the Endowment’s grants supported people in need, and he personally mentored and helped countless individuals facing challenges in their lives. He is irreplaceable, and he will be greatly missed.”

His life impacted countless organizations. Prior to joining the Lilly Endowment, Tom freely gave his time to serve on the boards of Indiana University Foundation, Sigma Nu Fraternity, Sigma Nu Educational Foundation, The Clowes Fund and The Allen Whitehill Clowes Charitable Foundation.

This remarkable man began his college career at Butler University where he first joined Sigma Nu. Richard “Dick” Thompson (Butler) became a close friend after they met in August 1947 at a Sigma Nu recruitment event. Once they became candidate brothers, their friendship was instantaneous. He gives Tom credit for being a leader, scholar and friend unlike the rest. “He was a teetotaler who never missed a Sigma Nu function, a scholar who used his scholarship to help brothers pass courses that they were in danger of failing and a ‘townie’ who spent more time in the fraternity house than just about anyone else,” says Dick

Even as a collegian, Tom was a leader. Dick called him “the voice of reason” in the chapter. He listened intently during meetings and presented his well-crafted remarks so persuasively that everyone went along with his suggestions. “He cared about the issues and wanted to help resolve differences,” says Dick, who is now Epsilon Mu’s chapter advisor emeritus. 

Tom ultimately transferred to Indiana University, where he affiliated with Sigma Nu’s Beta Eta Chapter; he graduated with distinction in 1951. He then attended the Indiana University School of Law, graduated with distinction in 1954 and was honored with membership in Beta Gamma Sigma and the Order of the Coif.  

Tom began his career in 1954 as a law clerk to United States Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton. In 1955, he joined the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels (now Faegre Baker Daniels) where he worked for more than three-and-a-half decades. There he became an expert on tax-exempt organizations and devoted much of his career to serving nonprofit organizations, not the least of which were national and international fraternities, sororities and other societies.

Since his graduation, Indiana University has recognized Tom with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree (2000), the Distinguished Alumni Service Award (1979) and the Thomas Hart Benton Medallion (1992), which acknowledges those who have provided outstanding service and support to the university and who can be commended for sharing its values and goals. (Tom also received honorary degrees from Butler in 2010 and Ball State in 2014.) An article published by IU shortly after Tom’s death, called him “one of IU’s most active alumni.”

In the same publication, IU President Michael A. McRobbie said of Tom, “He was one of the most remarkable men I have ever met. He had a razor-sharp forensic intelligence, great clarity of expression and was formidable in his ability to penetrate to the heart of any matter….mixed with the kindest and most solicitous manner, an enviable courtly bearing and a deep and abiding humanity….We have lost a unique man.”

When Tom’s grandson, Matt Lees, decided to transfer to Butler his sophomore year he got a phone call from his grandfather about a special project they were working on at the university. Brother Lofton and his fellow volunteers had recruited 12 exceptional students to recolonize the Epsilon Mu Chapter, and they wanted Matt to be part of it. “This chapter would be unlike any other,” Matt remembers his grandfather telling him. “They would have a focus on academics, friendship and leadership, all supported by an academic scholarship system,” he said: “By the time I arrived on Butler's campus in January 2002, I was welcomed into a group of brothers who would strive to continue the mission of my grandfather and Sigma Nu.”

One of the traits Matt says he will remember most about his grandfather is the interest he took in supporting the people around him. “Growing up, every family visit started with him asking how we were, what we were doing, what we were enjoying, and what we hoped to do - and typically ended with, ‘How can I help?’ I think the extent of his genuine interest and genuine caring for others is a trait we would all benefit from emulating.”

Brother Lofton leaves a legacy as a visionary leader and an advocate for education—all qualities that have impacted Sigma Nu and its members. “He was thoughtful, encouraging and always thinking about helping young people. The value of education was very important to him. He was a mighty oak of our Fraternity, a kind, humble giant-of-a-man whose shadow was immense on the landscape of higher education and men’s fraternities, especially Sigma Nu. His loss will be felt for a long time,” says E.G. 

As an alumnus of Epsilon Mu and Beta Eta Chapters, Tom was equally devoted to advancing the cause of both. In a 2003 interview with The Delta, Tom said he felt gratified by the opportunity to have friendships among alumni of both chapters. “I feel like I’m doubly blessed,” he said.

In the late 1970s, Tom provided the legal expertise needed to create the White Star Endowment, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization designed to receive charitable gifts that would support the educational interests of Indiana University’s Beta Eta Chapter. He also helped endow a scholarship for the Beta Eta Chapter named for former Regent Herman B Wells. The funds are used today to recognize academic achievement by members of the chapter, starting with those achieving a 3.25 and granting increasingly higher amounts for grade points up to 4.0. In 2010, he was also the catalyst for a challenge grant to Beta Eta for a substantial renovation to the chapter home. 

In 2002, Tom joined Epsilon Mu Brothers Fred Grounau and Dick Thompson to champion the recolonization of the Sigma Nu chapter at Butler. Although the university had its doubts, the effort was a huge success. 

In part to support Epsilon Mu’s recolonization, Tom and his wife Betty (Pi Beta Phi) made a significant gift to the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation to establish the Epsilon Mu Chapter Educational Fund and endow a scholarship for members and candidates based on individual academic success. 

“They did it right,” says E.G., referring to the recolonization. “They [Tom, Fred and Dick] emblazoned the importance of academics, and you can see the fruits of that in what the chapter has become.”

At the time, the Lofton’s donation to the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation was the largest single gift in the organization’s history.  It was a gift that then-Foundation President Jim Cherry (Hampden-Sydney) said gave “immediate credibility to the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation.” 

In 2002, the Loftons received the Outstanding Philanthropist Award from the North American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) in recognition of their significant support of the Greek community.

In a 2003 article in The Delta, Tom shared about his motivation to support young people and their educational aspirations. “My family did not have assets to waste and therefore I took very seriously from the very beginning my responsibility to take full advantage of the educational opportunities being provided for me,” he said. 

“If we can provide some inspiration, if we can motivate people, if we could reward academic accomplishment and help people achieve some notoriety for what they have been able to accomplish, then I think we are obligated to do that,” he said about the decision to fund the Epsilon Mu Chapter Educational Fund. 

Upon Tom’s passing, Epsilon Mu Chapter posted a message on Facebook honoring our fallen brother. In part, it reads: “Brother Lofton was among these incredible men that took their lifelong commitment to Sigma Nu to heart….The benefits from Brother Lofton’s scholarship program have multiplied in ways that he probably could not have imagined at the time of its establishment. Every semester since the chapter returned to campus, Sigma Nu has ranked either 1st or 2nd in GPA among all fraternities at Butler University. Thanks to men like Brother Thomas Lofton, the Epsilon Mu Chapter of Sigma Nu truly is a ‘different kind of fraternity.’”

Epsilon Mu continues to stand out among Sigma Nu chapters earning four consecutive Rock Chapter Awards (2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014), Man of the Year (2015), Talent of the Year (2010), the Regent’s Award for Academic Excellence (2014) as well as being honored with members who have become Alpha Chapter Affiliates (two in 2014) and Collegiate Grand Councilmen. 

“Tom’s contributions to our fraternity are endless, but his biggest achievement will probably always be those scholarships which helped keep many young men in school and which so many other fraternities have since copied,” says Dick.

In addition to supporting his local chapters, Brother Lofton was also devoted in service to the General Fraternity and Educational Foundation. He served as a Director and Legal Counsel on the SNEF, Inc. and as a Trustee for the Fraternity. In 1994, he was inducted into the Sigma Nu Hall of Honor, the highest award bestowed by Sigma Nu.  

E.G. recalls a story Tom told him about his transfer from Butler to Indiana University in the late 1940s. Tom drove to the Sigma Nu house in Bloomington, Ind. and walked in the front door with his suitcase. One of the brothers walked up to him; Tom introduced himself as a Sigma Nu from Epsilon Mu Chapter and said he was transferring to IU. The brother said, “Put your suitcase down, we’re going to lunch and you can move in afterwards.” Years later, as Tom recounted the story, he remembered his mother was pleased to know her son had a place to stay.  

Following Tom’s death, former Regent and member of the Hall of Honor, Don Densborn (Indiana) offered a few thoughts about Tom’s character and his priceless service to Sigma Nu: “Tom was a gifted, yet modest, man.  He lived a purposeful life, filled with charity and grace and ever moved by the hope that future generations, lifted by their scholarly pursuits, would carry on meaningfully and well.  He was, as much as any man, after the image of the great Dr. Herman B Wells, but he would shun any such comparison.  He was serious, thoughtful, insightful. At SNEF Board meetings, he was known as ‘E.F. Hutton,’ because when he spoke people listened. With Betty’s unflinching support, he gave incomparably of himself and his fortune to the various auspices of Sigma Nu, locally and nationally, many of which he initiated. They tried to be anonymous about their giving, but their gifts were just so smart, we all knew it was them (Even more remarkable is that whatever they did for Sigma Nu, they also did for Pi Beta Phi.) He was the epitome of a Knight.”  

E.G. recounts something he heard Tom say many times in the decades they worked together through Sigma Nu and the Lilly Endowment: “The judge [Sherman Minton] always said, ‘You can’t have enough friends because you never know when you’re going to need that friend to get something done.’” 

Tom lived out this statement—making friends and being a friend to countless individuals and organizations over his 86 years. He leaves behind a legacy few men can match, and the impact of his having walked with us for a time will live on in the hearts of all he touched.

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