Joy Thomas (’77)

Joy Aloysius Thomas, a Josephite from 1971 to 1977, is in the 2021 class of the St. Joseph’s Boys High School’s Old Boys Association’s Lifetime Achievement Awardees. The award honors distinguished alumni who have gone on to make a significant impact professionally and personally—alumni who have lived the Joseph’s motto of “Fide et Labora” (Faith and Toil). 

Joy blazed a trail, breaking out into our consciousness by being the only one to answer a thermodynamics question that Fr. Peter Pinto posed to the 7th grade class in 1974—a class with the reputation of having few slouches! He went on to top the school in the ICSE exam in 1977, top the famed Joint Entrance Exam of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology as a young 16 year old in 1979, and win the IEEE’s Charles LeGeyt Fortescue scholarship and the IBM Fellowship in 1984 and 1985 respectively to fund his PhD at Stanford University. Along the way, as a young graduate student, he co-authored the seminal book in Information Theory—”Elements of Information Theory”—with his equally distinguished doctoral thesis advisor, Prof. Tom Cover. Every information theorist in the world uses this book as The Bible. Not surprisingly, it reflects something Joy (and Tom) did all the time—explain the most random concepts presented to him “as simply as possible, but no simpler.”

Dr. Thomas, upon graduation, chose to work in industry, starting at IBM’s famed Thomas Watson Research Center before joining the founding team at Stratify and, then, venturing out on his own as co-founder of InsightsOne. For someone as cautious as he was, moving to the entrepreneurial world fraught with risk spoke to his intense curiosity, renowned tenacity and ability to toil late into the night, and unwillingness to give up till the goal was achieved. Both Stratify and InsightsOne were very successful, with InsightsOn being ultimately acquired by Google in 2016. This success was in large part due to Joy’s ability to see problems in unique ways—his technical contributions were typically obvious in hindsight, but not so obvious pre-Joy!

While we can wax eloquent about Joy the professional, it was Joy the person, that was the true attraction for those of us who spent almost 5 decades growing up alongside him. Joy was probably the most humble person one could meet—there were many times people would meet him, know him for a long time, and never realize how bright he was! Joy’s (and later, Joy, Priya, Josh and Leah’s) home was a permanently open home—there was always food, drink and a welcoming smile; with animated discussions from sports to politics to religion and information theory running rampant. The stove, oven, camera, and amplifier were a constant in his life along with people. Joy was gentle, almost shy, and most generous with his affection (though rarely shown in any physical form!), trust, time, and money. He was a true friend—one we miss greatly. 

As with many scientists, Joy was deeply religious. While his life revolved around his faith, he was very open minded. He’d take us infidels along with him to Christmas midnight mass and just as enthusiastically join us at the Hindu temple—often knowing more about the religious significance than the hosts! Faith was his anchor—it grounded him in times good and bad. 

His legacy lives on in the Joy Thomas Foundation (JTF). Created by his friends and colleagues, JTF focuses on inspiring STEM excellence, including at St. Joseph’s, where Joy’s own science journey started.

The Joseph’s community is privileged and honored to be presenting this OBA Lifetime Achievement Award to Joy, sadly posthumously.

Joy Thomas (’77)