Thomas Gibian (1922-2015)

Thomas GibianThomas George Gibian, 92, passed away on February 28, 2015, in Sandy Spring, Maryland. Tom was born into a loving family on March 20, 1922, in Prague, Czechoslovakia. His father, Richard, and his mother, Věra (Šindelářová), loved books, music and discussion. He was the oldest of three boys and enjoyed a happy childhood in a prosperous family. He was a good student and made friends that he would remain connected to for the rest of his life. He was a junior ranked tennis player and loved to ski and play soccer.

In the fall of 1938, with war seeming imminent, Tom and his brother were sent to École des Roches, in Normandy, and in January, to St. Edmunds College outside of London. After the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in the spring of 1939, Tom’s parents and younger brother managed to join them in England. In 1940, the family embarked for the US on a passenger ship travelling in convoy. After surviving attacks by a German bomber and U-boat, their ship landed safely in Boston in November 1940.

Tom received a scholarship from the Institute of International Education to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lived with a faculty member and, in exchange for room and board, was responsible for shoveling coal for the family furnace. Graduating in June 1942 with a B.S. in Chemistry, he immediately joined the Czech division of the Royal Air Force. Trained as a Spitfire pilot, Tom served in the Czech 310 and 312 Squadrons in England. He flew many missions including on D-Day and the days thereafter to provide low level support to troops and, as the front moved onwards, to escort fleets of bombers deep into Germany. Tom was awarded medals and commendations for his service but he rarely spoke about his experiences during the war. He returned to the US in December 1945, and received a D.Sc. in Chemistry from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie-Mellon University). Tom met his future wife, Laura Cynthia Sutherland, known as Peg, when they were both students there, and he and Peg were married on February 19, 1949. They had four children.

Tom’s professional career was in the chemical industry beginning as a research chemist for the Atlantic Refining Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1951, Tom was hired by Dewey and Almy Chemical Company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When Dewey & Almy was acquired by W. R. Grace & Co. in 1954, Tom was acquired with it. Tom held positions as a Development Engineer, then Plant Manager, then General Manager of the Automotive Battery Separator Division and Vice President, Organic Chemicals Division. In 1963, Tom became President of Grace’s Research Division, in Clarksville Maryland, and moved his family to Sandy Spring. Tom went on to become Corporate Vice President and Chief Technical Officer, responsible for research, engineering and new ventures, and served on the rotating Board of Directors of the corporation. In 1974, Tom joined Chemical Construction Corporation, an international engineering firm specializing in the design and construction of LNG plants, as President and Chief Executive Officer. In 1976 he formed his own engineering company, TGI Corporation, to design and build high fructose syrup plants based on the modular shop-fabricated construction principle. In 1979, the company was invited by the government of the Peoples’ Republic of China to visit Beijing to introduce its technology. In 1980, Tom was asked to become President and CEO of Henkel Corporation, the US subsidiary of Henkel, KGaA, where he was responsible for a large, multidivisional business. He was a true internationalist and leader, interested in understanding and bridging the differences in ways of thinking and approaches to business within the chemical industry in the United States and those in Western Europe. In recognition of this, he was awarded the prestigious International Palladium Medal of the Société de Chimie Industrielle, in 1983. Tom served as Director of the Société de Chimie Industrielle, American Section and was active in the American Chemical Society. He served on the Board of Trustees of Carnegie-Mellon University, and was a recipient of the Merit Award from Carnegie-Mellon. He ended his long and successful career in the chemical industry when he retired in 1986.

Given Tom’s energy and interests, no one believed that Tom would be able to actually retire, and in some ways he never did. Tom contributed his energy, experience and wisdom to numerous organizations and institutions tying together his lively interest in management in the chemical industry, his deep commitment to family and friends, and his enduring support of fellow Czech immigrants and the new Czech Republic. He worked for many years on the Board of Alpharma Inc. a manufacturer of pharmaceuticals for humans and animals with Headquarters in New Jersey and Oslo, Norway. He was a valuable member of many local boards, modeling grace and common sense. He served on the Board of the Montgomery General Hospital, and as Clerk of the Boards of Trustees of Friends House, Inc. and of Sandy Spring Friends School. Tom enjoyed membership in the Cosmos Club in Washington. He was active in the Czech community, serving as Executive Vice President of the Czechoslovak Society of Arts and Sciences (SVU), and was a founding member and director of the American Friends of the Czech Republic (AFoCR).

Tom loved to travel, both to see new places and to visit family and friends, particularly those remaining in the Czech Republic, cousins who immigrated to Israel and Chile, and friends and family around the US and the world. Tom was a role model who led by example. Tom was brave in the face of danger, adaptable when confronted with change, never spoke disrespectfully of anyone, had an open mind and the willingness to learn from everyone around him. He loved the life that he was blessed to live.