Uncle David Harding Thomas 1943-2022
I write with sadness…a family member has died, making the list of our family members shorter. David Harding Thomas died yesterday, in a hospice center in Nashville, where he faced an amputation and much pain. He had had so many ailments and operations and he faced nothing but more difficulties because of his blood circulation.
I am glad to have been in touch with him before he passed and that he is now at peace.
We all have really interesting and diverse memories of Uncle Dave, that go back to the grainy black and white square shots held in place with the little black triangles in the flimsy, falling apart photo albums that we pored over so often as kids.
Dave played an active role in my childhood and has been always in touch over the passing years. He used to come down and join Fran Pariso with a shotgun and stroll through the fields in search of pheasants and rabbits in Montgomery, our part of New Jersey. He also tried hunting for deer but he never got a shot off on one. He always called my mother Valerie Missy, throughout their lives. He was a good brother and devoted to his sister and attentive to us kids.
Dave and I were famous for long phone calls. My last conversation with him two weeks ago was when I was on a cruise in the Netherlands and I Face-timed him as he lay in his bed at the rehab. I turned the phone around to show him the sailboats anchored next door and the passing ferry boats in the harbor. He liked the view as much as I did, when a topless female lounged on the nearby yacht.
One of the things about Dave was that he was always a bit on edge, a bit truculent, a bit biting. He had the ability to snap, and it kept everyone on their toes. Of course, adult beverages played a role in nearly all of our interactions in person over the years. But Dave had this other side that encouraged carousing and finding some fun things to do, either driving a car with a broken muffler and gunning it at the crosswalks, or buying a big 8 cylinder BMW sedan and driving it very fast on the highway, and scaring everybody. Dave had an edge, and it was what made him the one and only David Thomas.
He was brusque, annoyed, slightly hard of hearing, a flirt, and just as quick, he’d be offering eloquent compliments and recognition of accomplishment. He always wanted to have ‘the best surgeon on the east coast,’ and ‘the top ranked Mass General Cancer specialists’ and these titles and university degrees were something he valued and talked about when describing professionals or colleagues.
Dave was a famous weekend visitor when I was growing up in the 1970s. He would blow in to town when he was traveling, and it was always a part of our childhood, his regular visits at holidays or just random times. I continued our friendship when I became an adult, then as an old adult.
Dave used to come up to Edgartown where my grandmother had her house and he’d visit, and he would become the coolest guy in the room. Dave was always cool to my younger cousins on dad’s side, Bill and Chris. Bill thought Dave was a big shot, as he drove a few different motorcycles and loved driving them but stopped after a terrible crash. I remember him visiting us once in crutches, he had broken his leg skiing.
He came to visit me a few times later in life when I lived here in Deerfield, and I stayed at his house a few times when I would visit NYC with him. I’d make dinner or we went out to expensive dinners when he came. He was always generous. He worked for Time Magazine back in the heyday of advertising sales, the Mad Men era, and we always made the most of his expense account and lots of fun stops at the 21 Club, and Ben Benson’s Steakhouse in Midtown, the cool spots that the ad guys knew about.
Uncle Dave went to the Hill School and played football, and then went to what called the “Harvard of the South,” Vanderbilt University, in Nashville. Then he did a few years service in the NJ National Guard at Fort Dix. He worked most of his career in advertising space sales for Time Inc titles including Time, Fortune, People and many others. He was a commuter to the city from his family home in the suburbs with his wife Jane and children Joe and Pam.
Dave devoted many years of hard work to write a book about his family and his ancestors, and he even included my life in the black volume. He did the work to trace the Thomas family lineage as far back as he could. He was rightly proud of how the big book came out after getting contributions from each family member.
Dave had a prickly nature, and so I’m sure there are bridges that he burned over the years, but in the balance all is resolved, it’s good. We spoke very close to the end of his life, and we said goodbye and said I love you.
Dave’s daughter Pamela has also always been good to me, hosting me once when I was in Atlanta, and keeping in touch. Joe, his son, really had the hardest time because of his proximity to Dave during his last years. He was a loving son until the end and for that the world owes him because old Uncle Dave never made anything easy.
Good bye Uncle Dave, my last uncle, I hope you’re in a better place.