UW System President Thompson visits UWO to give thanks; receives farewell message from Dr. Fauci

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Tommy Thompson’s farewell tour came to the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Monday with less than two weeks remaining in his tenure leading the UW System.

Thompson, the former four-term Wisconsin governor who has served as the interim president since July 2020, will step down March 18.

“The Fox Valley, this is the heart of the state of Wisconsin. You really are the heart of making this area grow and expand and lead,” Thompson told a morning gathering of UW Oshkosh leaders. ” … I wanted to come back one last time as I go out to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for trusting me, thank you for giving me a chance.”

UW Oshkosh Chancellor Andrew Leavitt commended Thompson for his leadership, especially through the pandemic that was disrupting much of the world when he agreed to step in as interim president.

“He really was the right person in the right moment,” Leavitt said. ” … I’m so grateful I had the opportunity to work with him and our senior staff is as well. As a result I think we’re much better off as a UW System.”

Under Thompson’s watch, UWO and the UW System launched first a comprehensive testing program, then a thorough vaccination plan for students, employees and the greater community. The former governor visited the Oshkosh campus with Gov. Tony Evers in early 2021 for the opening of the community vaccination site at the Culver Family Welcome Center.

“The UW System, because of Gov. Thompson, really was the first major American higher ed system to gain the attention of and support of the CDC and other entities when it came to how we applied the testing in a university setting,” Leavitt said.

Courtesy of UWO — UW System President Tommy Thompson points out he’s wearing a UWO sesquicentennial shirt Monday while visiting the Oshkosh campus.


Leavitt presented Thompson with a framed photo from another of his visits—this one from fall 2020, when Jerome Adams, then the U.S. Surgeon General, came to UWO to mark the opening of an on-campus surge testing site.

Thompson returned the praise, calling Leavitt “one of the best chancellors in the United States.”

“Every time I come here, I learn more about this fantastic campus,” Thompson told the room of University leaders. ” … I love you, I love this campus and I love what you do.”

Thompson was surprised with the playing of a recorded video message from Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the President.

Fauci and Thompson have known each other for more than 20 years, dating back to Thompson’s time as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under President George W. Bush. The two first worked together during the anthrax attacks that followed 9/11. They also traveled to Africa when helping respond to the AIDS crisis.

“I got to know Tommy very quickly and very intensively,” Fauci said in the video. “What soon became clear to me was not only is he a dedicated public servant, he is a wonderful human being. He is tough as nails when he needs to be and he does not take any nonsense from anyone—yet he has a sense of our common humanity that makes him not only someone whom you respect, but also someone who engenders a great deal of affection.”

Fauci said from knowing Thompson as a colleague and friend, it doesn’t surprise him he has so ably guided UW System through the pandemic. He also called UW System a model for campus testing and vaccination and commended the network for having met the challenge so admirably.

“Importantly, after he left his post as HHS, our friendship endured and to my great pleasure it grew,” Fauci continued. “Reliably every Christmas Eve, which also happens to be my birthday, Tommy calls to wish me well and we reminisce about the wonderful times we spent together. And so, my friend, congratulations on another job well done.”

Thompson said along with the yearly phone call, every Christmas Eve he also sends Fauci a box of Wisconsin cheese.

“That’s why he likes me so much,” Thompson joked.

At another gathering with media at the Culver Family Welcome Center—an appropriate setting given its role as a testing and vaccination site during the height of the COVID-19 crisis—Thompson was recognized with proclamations from Oshkosh Mayor Lori Palmeri and Oshkosh Student Association President Jacob Fischer.

Thompson took over as president on July 1, 2020 and has guided UW System through more than two and a half years of the pandemic. He proudly announced Monday he was visiting the Oshkosh campus at a time when, apart from UW-Madison, there were zero active COVID-19 cases on the UW campuses.

Last month the UW System Board of Regents voted unanimously to remove the “interim” designation on his title, making Thompson officially the eighth UW System president.

That followed the unanimous approval by the UW System Board of Regents of Jay O. Rothman, chairman and CEO of the law firm Foley & Lardner LLP in Milwaukee, as the UW System’s next president. Rothman will begin on June 1, with former Regent Michael Falbo set to serve as interim president until Rothman’s first day.