Thomas Van Scoy was born in Indiana on February 13, 1848. He attended the Battle Ground Collegiate Institute, Brookston Academy, and Northwestern University, earning his way through by teaching, and later, serving as principal of the Brookston Academy. He then entered the Methodist ministry and received theological training at Garrett Biblical Institute. After serving for a year as professor of ancient languages at Willamette University, Van Scoy was asked to step in as acting president upon Lambert's resignation, a position that was made permanent in January of 1881. Described as "rather tall and slender, with a pleasant face, mild blue eye[s], auburn hair and whiskers", Van Scoy was well liked by students who found him "unusually affable ... kindly, approachable, simple in manners." Van Scoy's generosity and commitment to Willamette's progress is illustrated in his purchase and donation of the home of the Old Institute's first teacher (Chloe Clarke Willson) for the purpose of operating as the Women's College. After serving 11 years at WU, Van Scoy became dean of the newly founded Portland University, a position he held until he died on February 11, 1901 at the age of 53.