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Gerald W Thomas

1919 - 2013 Obituary Condolences
Gerald W Thomas Obituary
Gerald W. Thomas, husband, father, patriot, hero, author, historian, friend
and colleague, died peacefully on Wednesday, July 31, 2013, at the age of
Gerald was born on a ranch on Medicine Lodge Creek in Small, Idaho, on July
3, 1919, to Daniel Waylett and Mary Evans Thomas.
Because Small High School offered only 11 grades, his mother took him with
his brothers to California to finish school, where Gerald graduated from
John Muir Tech with a high school diploma, and from Pasadena Junior College
with an associate of arts degree. During summers, Gerald was employed by the
Salmon and Targhee national forests, where he was working for the U.S.
Forest Service when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
Soon after, he joined the U.S. Navy, serving as a carrier-based naval
torpedo pilot. During the war, Gerald flew a Grumman Avenger¬TBM from three
aircraft carriers -- the USS Ranger, USS Bunker Hill and USS Essex. He
served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of operation and survived a
splashdown in the South China Sea, which he chronicled in his book, "Torpedo
Squadron Four: A Cockpit View of World War II." He was awarded three
Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Air Medals and a Presidential Unit
Gerald married Jean Ellis on June 2, 1945, and their passion and love for
each other continued for the next 67 years. Their first two children were
born while Gerald worked for the U.S. Soil Conservation Service in Idaho. In
1950, they loaded up the family in a four-wheel trailer they made out of
their old Model A Ford and moved to College Station, Texas, where Gerald
completed a master's degree and a doctorate degree in range science and was
promoted to teaching and research positions.
While in College Station, their third child was born. In 1958, Dr. Thomas
was named dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences at Texas Tech
University. Gerald and Jean were loved members of the Lubbock community and
raised their children there.
In August 1970, Dr. Thomas was named president of New Mexico State
University, serving 14 years in that capacity. As integral members of the
Las Cruces community, Gerald and Jean considered this move one of the best
decisions of their lives, which Gerald chronicled in his book, "A Winding
Road to the Land of Enchantment."
Gerald is the author or co-author of numerous books and more than 200 other
publications. In 1984, New Mexico State University named a million-dollar
chair in his honor, and in 1988 they designated the agriculture and home
economics building as "Gerald Thomas Hall." He helped organize the building
of the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum.
Throughout his career, Dr. Thomas maintained a special interest in world
food problems, environmental issues, natural resource management and
history. He has had numerous honors, served on many boards, including the
State Board of Education, the Research Advisory Committee for the U.S.
Agency for International Development and other state and national
He is survived by his beloved wife, Jean; his children David Gerald Thomas,
Peggy Jeane Vanlandingham and Marianne Shipley; two grandchildren, Amy Pope
and her husband, Jimmy, and Ethan Vickery, and his wife, Erin Metcalf
Vickery; three great-grandchildren, Kynlee Pope, Lair Vickery and Lake
Vickery; two brothers, Walter James and his wife, Betsy, and John Foster and
his wife, JoAnn; and numerous extended family and friends.
A memorial service that is open to the public will be held at 11 a.m.
Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, at First Presbyterian Church, 200 Boutz Road, Las
Cruces. Following the service, a reception will be held at the church.
Gifts can be made in his name to the New Mexico State University Foundation
(contact Deborah Widger at (575) 646-4034 or email [email protected]), or
First Presbyterian Church.
To learn more about his WWII history, visit his website at To visit his Wikipedia page, visit

Published in Alamogordo Daily News from Aug. 3 to Sept. 2, 2013
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