By Sherry McKendry
When you were a kid, what did you want to be? If anyone asked young Thom Ruby what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would reply, “A history teacher!” because of his love of the subject, especially the American Civil War. A check of salaries for this profession, however, led him to major in health care management at University of Maryland, Baltimore. Working his senior year at Johns Hopkins University’s Cancer Center led to a full-time job in administration, a challenging position given that he worked with both patients and their families.
Citing a form of burnout at JHU, he started “career shopping” and landed a job at Towson in 1979 as assistant director of Auxiliary Services, overseeing revenue-producing contracts with vendors and food providers. Thom then held positions of successively more responsibility, from the Director of Events & Conference Services to the University Union Director for the next five years.
Following more staff changes, Thom became the Associate Vice President for Auxiliary for another couple of years, but it wasn’t until he was appointed to his current position of Director of the Bursar’s Office that he found the home that’s been his for the last 18 years.
Constantly looking to improve customer service and save money through technology, Thom initiated an “eBill” program, which provides a payment gateway for electronic check payments of tuition remission and other invoices for students or their parents. By eliminating credit card payments, the university realized more than a million dollars in merchant fees!
A new goal is to establish an in-house tuition deferred program that is due to roll out in fall 2013. Students and parents will be able to spread payment for the semester’s fee over a more manageable 5 month period instead of the single lump cost at the start of each semester. Can’t you just hear parents all over breathing a sigh of relief?
One other program Thom plans to automate is the 1098 tax form that is sent to each student annually. Electronic delivery will eliminate the costs of paper and postage for TU.
In addition to all of the job titles Thom has collected at TU, he also proudly wears the title of “Dad.” His daughter Shelby is a gerontology major and Thom plans to be her first case. Other titles he’d like to add are “international traveler” and “sailor,” since he dreams of sailing down the Intracoastal Waterway from the Chesapeake Bay to Key West. His love of the water is the reason he joined the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary where he performs vessel safety checks, provides educational programs and patrols the local waters to ensure boater’s safety.
Safety and training are part of Thom’s responsibility with another group he works with, that of S.A.F.E. Management, an organization that provides stadium security for the Baltimore Ravens. Having attended eight Super Bowls, Thom’s experience with customer service and safety is the basis of his training program for new S.A.F.E. staff.
Finally, there is one more title Thom carries with pride. Years ago, while observing shopping mall Santas interact with young children, he noticed the long tiring lines that families endured to have their children talk to “Santa” and have quick photos taken of the event. Thom realized that an unhurried visit with Santa would be a much more pleasant experience in a child’s home environment, with personal information on hand relating to each child.
That was the beginning of Santas Visits R Us, with Thom in the starring role. So convincing is Thom in his role that last year when a father thanked him for “his show” the mother punched the father’s arm and declared, “That wasn’t a show! He’s Santa Claus!” Now, that’s an impressive job title.