Thomas Milton Lofton


Honorary Degree (2000)
Doctor of Laws
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Myles Neil Brand
Distinguished Alumni Service Award (1997)
B.S., 1951; J.D., 1954; LL.D., 2000
Thomas Hart Benton Mural Medallion (1992)
An Evening with Herman Wells Dinner
Location: Bloomington
Presenter: Thomas Ehrlich
Maurer School of Law Academy of Law Alumni Fellows (1991)


Thomas Lofton's illustrious law career and his philanthropic leadership have distinguished his alma mater and opened doors of educational opportunity for citizens of Indiana and beyond, He has, as was once written of him, "fulfilled in his career that ambition of all lawyers: a harmony of vocational success, meaningful service to his community, and contribution to the advancement of the profession." Chairman of the Board of the Lilly Endowment since 1993, Lofton guides the policies and programs of one of the largest philanthropic institutions in the world.

This career marked by an extraordinary record of community service began at Indiana University. Lofton earned his bachelor of science degree with distinction from IU in 1951, and went on to earn his juris doctor from the IU School of Law - Bloomington in 1954. As a law student, he was editor in chief of the Indiana Law Journal; when he graduated, Lofton was honored with membership in Beta Gamma Sigma and the Order of the Coif.

"Since graduation, Tom has been one of our most successful and dedicated alumni, actively involved in the life of this school," says Alfred C. Aman Jr., dean of the IU School of Law - Bloomington.

Lofton was admitted to the Indiana Bar in 1954 and began his career as a law clerk to United States Supreme Court Justice Sherman Minton, 1954-1955. He also served as a first lieutenant in the Judge Advocate General Corps in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1958. At the same time, he became a partner in the Indianapolis law firm of Baker & Daniels, 1955-1991, where his initial specialization was in corporate and antitrust law. Throughout the 1960s, Lofton was an active member of the American Bar Association, serving as a member of its Consent Decree Subcommittee and then as chairman of the Civil Practice and Procedure Committee of the Antitrust Law Section.

In the 1970s, Lofton shifted his areas of expertise to include taxation and administration so that he could work with charitable organizations. He spent the next two decades distinguishing himself as an expert in this field, working with, among others, the Lilly Endowment, the Indiana University Foundation, the Christian Theological Seminary, Earlham College, the Kiwanis International Foundation, and the governing boards of many collegiate fraternities and sororities.

Lofton retired as managing partner in the Baker & Daniels law firm to accept the position of vice chairman of Lilly Endowment in 1991, and became chairman in 1994. The Lilly Endowment is one of the 10 largest private foundations in the United States; its priorities include religion, education, and community development with emphasis on projects that benefit young people and promote leadership and education. Through its grantmaking, the Lilly Endowment has helped Indiana's private and public colleges focus on student recruitment and retention. As chairman, Lofton led a decade-long effort that resulted in the creation of community foundations in every county in Indiana. He also helped create a national role for the Lilly Endowment, most recently evidenced by grants to the United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund for the purpose of increasing minority participation in higher education.

"Tom contributes in a crucial way to a broad philanthropic enterprise that directly or indirectly touches almost everyone in the state and many in our nation," says Breon Mitchell, IU professor of Germanic studies and comparative literature.

Lofton also has been a supportive alumnus of IU and is an active member of the Board of Visitors for the School of Law - Bloomington, an advisory group that he helped form in the 1960s. He was president of the Law Alumni Association in 1976 and remains involved with that group as a member of the Past Presidents' Club. He has been inducted into the Academy of Law Alumni Fellows and, in 1997, was awarded a Distinguished Alumni Service Award from Indiana University. He also has served the university as a member of the Campaign for Indiana steering committee; as chair of the fundraising campaign for the Wells Scholars Program; and as a member of the IU Foundation Board of Directors (1978-1991), the IU Alumni Association, and the IU School of Medicine Dean's Council. He continues to serve the IU Foundation as an honorary member of its board.

Lofton was recognized for his community leadership and philanthropic endeavors by induction into the Indiana Academy in 1994. Although he leads one of the nation's largest philanthropic organizations, he is ardently involved in his own community of Indianapolis, including, among other endeavors, helping launch the city's Campaign for Healthy Babies.

"His public-mindedness with respect to advancing the quality of life in the capital city has touched the lives of virtually every citizen of our community," says Gerald Bepko, IU Vice President for Long-Range Planning and IUPUI Chancellor. "Arts and cultural organizations, colleges and universities, United Way of Central Indiana, and hosts of other community assets have benefited from the work of the Lilly Endowment."

His advocacy for education and mentoring young people also has been demonstrated through his role as a volunteer with Sigma Nu fraternity at both local and national levels, and he is past director of the national Sigma Nu Educational Foundation. "He and I are fraternity brothers and I have known him for many, many years and have watched his career with much pride," said the late University Chancellor Herman B Wells, in a letter written in support of Lofton's nomination for an honorary degree. "I can think of no living alumnus who has been more loyal or achieved greater distinction than Thomas M. Lofton."

Thomas Milton Lofton passed away on June 19, 2015.