Wednesday, January 13, 2010

January 13

Samuel Alexander Thomas would have been 77 years old today.  Sadly, he died at the age of 58.  Sam was born in a small central Texas town, Groesbeck at home on Friday the 13th.  Such a perfect day for him to be born!  He was the baby of the family with 2 older siblings--Dorothy Mae and A. B. Jr. (called Chow).  Chow's full name was Adelbert Brandon Thomas, while his father's name was Adelbert Brann.  Both siblings are gone now.  Chow died in 1990 of acute alcoholism and Dorothy died after Sam of stomach cancer.

While both his siblings were eccentric, Sam was well-rounded, possessed of great common sense, educated, full of fun and loved by everyone who knew him.  They came from a very disfunctional home which affected them all, but Sam seemed to overcome all the obstacles to become successful in career, marriage, fatherhood and Christianity.  Alcoholism ruined family life, but  Sam generally found a way to have fun.  The family heritage was Baptist, but Sam told me one time that when he could, he would go to the church with the best food.  He knew what was important.

 While in high school, one of his friends invited him to the local Church of Christ in Pasadena.  The people and the atmosphere appealed to Sam.  He became a member and started his Christian life at a run.  The elders took him aside and tried to persuade him to go to Abilene Christian and fulfill his dream of  training for the preaching ministry.  Because of things at home, he knew the finances would be impossible.  However, each elder at the Pasadena church believed in him so much (he often had this effect on people) they each pledged to send him $5.00 or more a month.  So, with an old cardboard suitcase containing one threadbare suit and a couple of pants and shirts and $25.00 in his pocket, he climbed on the bus, rode hundreds of miles to a place he had never been and enrolled in Abilene Christian College.  With grants, loans,  and working every hour he was not in school, he graduated in 1956 with a degree in Bible.

As a senior set to graduate in 1955, he visited the campus school at ACU with a friend who was majoring in education.  Watching Mrs. Gilbreath, a master teacher, work with her 4th graders, Sam began to think about changing his major.  He had visited that previous summer the private school his niece and nephew attended and was drawn to teaching elementary children. Mrs. Gilbreath counseled him, and before the semester was over, Sam decided to stay at ACU another year and get certified to teach elementary school.  In doing so, his ministry to thousands of children and adults was assured.  His first job was in Port Arthur, Texas where he stayed for eight years, excelling in the classroom.  He then decided to come back to ACU and work on his master's in elementary school administration.  He stayed in Abilene until his death serving at Fair Park Elementary and Austin Elementary as a 5th or 6th grade teacher.  Later he served his internship  in school administration at Valley View Elem.  and was appointed principal at Bowie Elementary.  There for thirteen years, the Bowie community was up in arms when he was transfered to Austin Elem. to be principal in an administration shake-up.  He was there until the first day of August, 1991.  That morning he got up, but collapsed in the bathroom and couldn't go on the first day of school  (for teachers and administators)for the first time in 40 years.  Besides the love and respect of every student who had him and every teacher who worked for him, he didn't accumulate many awards.  He was named Principal of the Year by by the district Principals Assn. and was honored with a life-time membership in the State PTA.  He often said that his rewards came from seeing successful students.  For many years, he sent every student he ever taught a birthday card.  His death of prostate cancer in October, 1991,  brought an outpouring from those he touched over the years.

In 1992, one of the new elementary schools built in Abilene was named after him.

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