Gerald Thomas

Gerald W. Thomas – husband, father, patriot, hero, author, historian, friend, and colleague -- died peacefully on July 31, at the age of 94. Gerald was born on a ranch on Medicine Lodge Creek, Small, Idaho on July 3, 1919, to Daniel Waylett and Mary Evans Thomas. Because the 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 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, the USS Bunker Hill and the 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 the Presidential Unit Citation. 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 4-wheel trailer they made out of their old Model A Ford, and moved to College Station, Texas, where Gerald completed a MS and a PH.D. 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 over 200 other publications. In 1984, New Mexico State University named a million-dollar chair in his honor and in 1988 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 US Agency for International Development and other state and national committees. 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; numerous extended family and friends. A memorial service open to the public will be held on August 10 at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church, 200 Boutz Road, Las Cruces, NM. 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 or First Presbyterian Church. To learn more about his WWII history, go to his website at To visit his Wikipedia page go to

Published in Las Cruces Sun-News from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4, 2013