The children of Raymond Dexter Thomas, Sr., age 93, a resident of Ewing, Virginia, a proud World War II veteran, an honored Kentucky Colonel, and a member of the Greatest Generation, are heartbroken to announce that on the morning of October 4, 2016, their beloved Father touched the face of God to be with our Mother, Wandaleen Fern Payne Thomas. Anyone who knew of Mom and Dad’s continuing love story, knows that Mom was his only love, his sweetheart, his loving, and devoted wife. As Dad would recount to family, friends, and total strangers, Mom was beautiful when they first met and grew more beautiful with each passing day of their marriage of 55 years, 2 years, and 7 days when Mom became Heaven’s newest angel. Since that time, Dad’s greatest wish was to once again be with Mom, and we find comfort to know that Dad’s last wish came true and he and Mom are together again for eternity.
Dad was born on January 31, 1923, on Sukey Ridge in the small community of Baxter that is located on the outskirts of the town of Harlan, nestled deep in the heart of coal mining country, Harlan County, Kentucky. He was the second oldest child of 13 born to our paternal grandparents, Jim Syl and Vola Elizabeth Brooks Thomas who preceded him in death along with brothers, Rondal and J.S.; sisters Ruthie Virginia Thomas, Mary Lynn Thomas, Iva Jean Thomas Flowers, Ruby Jewel Thomas Bays, Thelma Joyce Thomas Howard, and Mildred Blanche Thomas Dixon; and, son-in-law, Michael Roy Cheek.
Dad was a great story teller, recounting in fascinating detail childhood memories of Sukey Ridge; his first day in school in the little stone church by the railroad tracks in Baxter; the times, during the Great Depression, that he and his brother Rondal helped out with chores on the farm owned by their maternal grandparents, Harve and Cornie Monday Brooks; and, fond memories of childhood visits with his paternal grandparents, John and Dona Rowland Thomas in the Caylor community, and from there hiking a nearby ridge at the foot of Stone Mountain to visit cousins, C.R. and John Rowland, in the hollow we all know as Dry Branch.
Dad was a member of the first graduating class of Dr. Thomas Walker High School in 1941. He would later joke that he took a course in speaking French that year and noted to his teacher the reason why he was not too interested in learning to speak the language was because he figured he would never have the need to do so. After graduating from Thomas Walker, Dad began his career with The H.T. Hackney Company (known then as Jellico Grocery) on June 2, 1942, in Harlan, Kentucky. His career was briefly interrupted on January 28, 1943, when he was inducted into the U.S. Army during World War II. Dad received his basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, after which the Army sent him to mechanics school in Detroit, Michigan. Dad served in England, France, and Germany, and was part of the Allied invasion of France at Omaha Beach on D-Day 3 as part of the 479th Ordinance Evacuation Company whose mission was to transport tanks to U.S. forces at the front battle lines. One of Dad’s most notable recollections of his time in Europe was of meeting (then) General Dwight D. Eisenhower in person after his tank transport vehicle, known as a Dragon Wagon, along with other Dragon Wagons in his convoy became stuck in mud after being ordered by security personnel to get off the road because Ike was approaching the convoy. When Eisenhower came upon the stuck convoy, he asked Dad how his Dragon Wagon named “Doll Baby” along with other Dragon Wagons had become stuck. Dad told Eisenhower that they were ordered to clear the road because the General was approaching their convoy. Dad says that Ike grew irritated and told Dad’s commanding officer that it was unlikely that President Truman nor anyone of higher rank would be coming to Europe during the war and that they were to move over for no one again. From then on, Dad said, Dragon Wagons owned the road. Other stories Dad told about his war experiences included delivering tanks to General Patton’s troops during the Battle of the Bulge, and how he and his best buddy Watson would be among the first to know that the War in Europe had ended. After World War II ended, Dad received an honorable discharge from the Army, returned home to Ewing, and resumed his career with the H.T. Hackney Company (known then as Tri-State Wholesale) in Middlesboro where he would work for a total of 66 years before retiring.
Dad was a devoted husband to our Mom, a loving, supportive, and proud father and grandfather, and an avid gardener. Dad enjoyed his time outside in the garden where each year, including this year, he grew in abundance the best tasting State half-runner green beans that would feed family, friends, and neighbors. Dad also loved to putter around “the Ponderosa,” about eight acres of the farm his grandparent once owned, including the land where the tobacco barn built by his grandfather Harve still stands.
During the last few years, we have heard Dad say that he raised three good children who gave three wonderful grandchildren and three of the best grandpups a grandfather could ask for. We are Karen Susan Thomas Peevely, Kathy Diane Thomas Cheek, and Raymond Dexter Thomas, II; son-in-law, Dr. Gary Lynn Peevely; grandchildren, Thomas Seth Peevely, James Michael Cheek, and Meghan Lyn Elizabeth Peevely Woodward, and husband John; and grandpups, Kira, Boulder, and Louie C. Other surviving relatives include sisters Elizabeth Thomas Zastrow, Jane Thomas Jones and husband Joe, sisters-in-law Emma Kate Thomas, Connie Payne, Peggy Payne, and special “sister” Sue Payne Foster and husband Tom. Additionally, Dad is survived by many loving nieces and nephews including: Gary and Mary Thomas, Becky and Michael Day, Bob Bays, and Mary and Denis Brown. We would like to especially thank our Aunt Jane and Aunt Thelma; cousins Mary, Denis, Becky, and Mike; and our relatives and friends in the Elydale neighborhood who looked after Dad when were unable to do so.
Our family will receive friends from 5 – 9 p.m. on Monday, October 10, 2016, at the Green Hills Funeral Home, 31 Hurst Road, Middlesboro, Kentucky 40965. Funeral services will be held at 1 p.m. on Tuesday, October 11, 2016, at the Green Hills Funeral Home.in Middlesboro. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the community meal or food panty at the First Baptist Church of Ewing, P.O. Box 277, Ewing, Virginia 24248.
Dad will be laid to rest next to our Mom in Richmond Cemetery that sets high atop a hill that overlooks his hometown of Ewing, Virginia, with his favorite view of the majestic limestone cliffs of the White Rocks high on Stone Mountain in the background.
Dad, you were the best father any child could ask for or want. You will forever be a part of us, in our hearts and minds. We miss you terribly and will love you forever. Until we meet again … with love, Karen, Kathy and Raymond D.