SUNY Canton
Myrna Thomas

Life Saver

Myrna Thomas '79

Figuratively speaking, Myrna F. (Schaber) Thomas’s ’79 career has been a matter of life and death.

After working as a mortician for several years post-graduation, she switched gears to work in an environmental lab, eventually landing in the pharmaceutical field. Along the way, she conducted research for some of the biggest names in the industry and helped develop a revolutionary vaccine that has saved millions of lives.

While at Praxis Biologics (which was later acquired by Wyeth), she played a key role in developing the “Prevnar 13” vaccine, which protects against the pneumococcus bacterium–a leading cause of pneumonia and other severe illnesses. It was approved by the FDA in 2001 and is now considered the gold standard immunization for infants, the elderly, and high-risk adults. Forbes Magazine called it “one of the greatest pharmaceutical innovations of the past two decades.”

As the current Vice President for Quality Assurance and Regulatory Affairs for Accupac Inc., she recognizes that her journey from mortician to quality assurance has been a “long and winding road.” She credits SUNY Canton with providing the strong foundation upon which all of her success was built. Not only did the academic rigor of the Mortuary Science associate program prepare her for bachelor’s and master’s degree work, but she said the extracurricular activities she took advantage of laid the groundwork for future professional opportunities.

“SUNY Canton provided me with my first exposure to academia and encouraged me to ask questions - not only in class, but in life.”

“Canton allowed me to get involved in a lot of different areas: I served on the Student Senate, was a freshman orientation leader, joined Alpha Chi Omicron, and was elected President of the Mortuary Science Association. It was a well-rounded experience that put me on a path that led me to where I am today.”

Myrna Thomas poses in front of caskets in the SUNY Canton Funeral Services Lab.

She is giving back to her alma mater in the form of an endowed scholarship, which will be awarded to an entering or continuing student who demonstrates a financial need. “I believe it is everyone’s responsibility to find ways to give back, and I am honored to support a scholarship,” she said. “SUNY Canton provided me with my first exposure to academia and encouraged me to ask questions–not only in class, but in life. Playing a small role in helping other students build the road to their future by sharing my success continues the circle of giving SUNY Canton started with me.”

When she returned to campus last fall to speak as part of the Excellence in Leadership Lecture series, Thomas said she was eager to share advice and experiences. In fact, she’s been thinking about the possibility of teaching high school math or science upon retirement.

“I enjoy mentoring people and would love to work with students at that age,” she said. “I’d like to let them know that their entire future is ahead of them, and they have the opportunity to pursue many different avenues, regardless of where they start.”