Dr. Lakin was a student in the Los Angeles public school system, graduating from Dorsey High School in the early 1960s. He continued his education at UCLA where he received his undergraduate degrees and doctorate in higher education administration. He served as a counselor in the Los Angeles community college system as well as vice president for instruction at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, a school that, through his diligence and leadership, became a jewel in the middle of south central Los Angeles. In 1986, Dr. Lakin was appointed president of Los Angeles Southwest College and later Chancellor of the Ventura Community College district.
He passed away after a short illness in 1994.
Dr. Lakin is quoted as having said, “I was profoundly driven as a young adult, as a young parent and as a young black person to forever seek out people of good will, and to persistently seek social justice. To this end, I have committed my life.” Thomas Lakin believed there was no limit to what was possible for an African-American leader in higher education. He had the great gift of recognizing talent, knew how to bring out the potential of subordinates and colleagues, and went the extra mile to help people with their career aspirations. He hired ten people from diverse backgrounds with different skills in his first college cabinet. Within five years, every one of those ten, who so desired, had been promoted.
He knew how to have a good time and enjoyed life. He was a marathon runner who participated in nine Los Angeles marathons. He was an avid gardener and loved his roses. He was generous and would spend a thousand dollars on a meal for his administrative staff as a reward for hard work. He had an unquenchable desire and stamina for hard work. He is known to have said to a colleague who lamented the possibility of becoming forty years old before finishing his doctorate, “How old will you be if you don’t get the degree?” He could cut through to the heart of an issue, making it clear, seeing the solutions, and never doubting the attainability of the goals.