April 11, 1951 – Jan. 14, 2020
Gary Thomas, 68, Homer’s public-spirited master of ceremonies, died in a sudden and unforeseeable accident Jan. 14, 2020, leaving a hole in the community where he was the affable auctioneer for every nonprofit and good cause.
Gary was the town’s longest-serving volunteer firefighter, supervised the town’s annual health fair, and ran a business watching homes when their owners were away. He had served as general manager of the public radio station, publisher of the weekly newspaper, and guest pronouncer at countless school spelling bees.
He carried little fuzzy ducks in his pocket to give away in case somebody needed one.
“He answered every phone call, day or night,” his family said. “Everyone knew they could call him any time and he would be there for them.”
Gary was born April 11, 1951 in Fargo, North Dakota. He graduated from high school in Moline, Illinois, in 1969, and from St. Lawrence University in 1973. After several years working for John Deere, he moved to Alaska in 1979 with his first wife, Gail Radcliffe, and settled in Homer. His family said constant moving in his youth, to a different high school every year, prompted him to sink deep roots in the Homer community he found.
He joined the Homer Volunteer Fire Department as soon as he arrived, eventually becoming a statewide fire investigator. In 1986, he drove a new lime-yellow fire truck from Florida to Homer. He also worked with Kachemak Emergency Services after the rural coverage area was added. His 40 years of volunteer service were the most ever by any firefighter in Homer.
Gary also volunteered right away at Homer’s new public radio station, KBBI, where he became known for his Friday afternoon “Moldy Oldies” show, and was swiftly elevated to general manager. He acted in shows for Pier One Theater. During the 1990s, he was business manager for Homer writer and radio personality Tom Bodett, and then was business manager and publisher of the Homer News from the late 1990s until 2005.
After 18 years, he sold his business, “Housewatch,” and most recently had a contract with the U.S. Postal Service. When he was not running the mail out to Fritz Creek, he enjoyed traveling to Africa and floating the Amazon and Colorado Rivers.
As emcee, he hosted annual fundraisers for the Pratt Museum, the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, Hospice of Homer, Kachemak Board of Realtors, South Peninsula Women’s Services, and the Dancing Bears of Anchorage, for whom he once enticed a bid of $400 for a quart of Spenard honey. He served that role as well at many private fundraisers for people in need.
His long involvement with the Rotary Club led him to take on running the popular local health fair, providing services to more than 1,000 residents every year. Gary served on the local hospital advisory board and road service area board. He played a key role on the grants committee for the Homer Foundation.
In addition to fuzzy ducks that quacked, he had a thing for two-dollar bills, lighthouses, and lions.
“He was an amazing grandpa, a big goofy kid at heart,” his family said. “He was also a great mediator, who could bring people together in a positive way.” Brother Asaiah once said, ‘Brother Gary is the voice of reason.’”
Gary is survived by his wife, Laura Patty, and daughter Jenny Dunne (and her husband Charlie Doherty); children Mica Thomas (and fiance Kelsey Ottley) and Mariah Greenwald (and husband Adam Greenwald); his grandchildren, Clayton and Anthony Greenwald; his first wife, Gail Radcliffe; his brother, Norman Thomas, and sister, Martha Twarkins (and husband Bill Twarkins); and nieces and nephews Steve Twarkins, Vanessa Twarkins, Jennifer Walters, and Chris Thomas.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Bob and Loie Thomas.
A memorial for Gary was held at Homer High School’s Mariner Theater on Jan. 19, 2020, with more than 500 people attending. Master of ceremonies was Tom Bodett, who returned to Homer for the occasion and professed himself flummoxed to have to serve in the role that should naturally have been filled by Gary Thomas.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Gary Thomas Memorial Donation Fund at Alaska USA Credit Union. Checks should be made out to Alaska USA. Gary’s family said the money will be distributed to good causes in the Homer area.