Roy Thomas gave to his country by doing secret work in cryptography with the Air Force, he gave to his city through his work as a community development director and co-founder of a chapter of the NAACP, and he gave to his friends and family and everyone who knew him through his gentle nature and sense of fun.
After a lifetime of giving, we lost Roy Thomas last week at 79 years old. He had grown up in a black family in the segregated South of the 1940s and ‘50s, the oldest of 12 children, before going into the service and meeting his wife, Altemese, who was from Glens Falls. He quickly made an impression here, as he worked with a few friends to set up one of the first chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in northeastern New York.
Wayne Judge, a local lawyer, became the counsel to the chapter and a fast friend of Roy’s.
“He was one of the people who laughed at all of my jokes,” Judge said. “We had a lot of adventures together in the NAACP. If you had any worthwhile cause and you called up Roy, he was there.
“I don’t know anybody who’s contributed more to the community and the general good than somebody like Roy, who’s just put his whole life into it.”
Thomas was a devoted family man — “a loving father, loving husband,” Altemese said — who liked nothing more than taking a child down to the river to fish or a grandchild to the pond in Crandall Park.
Besides his sense of humor, he was also known for his patience, Altemese said, as fishermen often are.
He worked for many years for the Ciba-Geigy plant, where he was a foreman, and then took the job for the city as its community development director — work he was passionate about, Altemese said, because he wanted to help people.
He not only helped start the local NAACP chapter, but he mentored many of his successors at the organization, including Lee Braggs, who grew up close to Thomas in Mississippi and followed Roy and his brother, Henry, to Glens Falls.
GLENS FALLS — Roy Thomas once said that a baseball diamond was the perfect place to cultivate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.
“That’s how it happens,” Braggs said. “We’re not related, but we were like family to each other.”
“We did a whole lot of things together,” Judge said, of Thomas. “I suppose I could list them if I had a lot of time. He was one of my best friends.”
When we turn to the obituary pages, it is a life like Roy Thomas’ — a life of giving and of taking part, of love and laughter — that impresses us as a life well-lived.
We don’t often use editorials to remember members of the community who have died, but Glens Falls is a close-knit community — a place where people look out for and take care of each other — because of people like Roy Thomas.
He was someone who reached out, someone who, in the words of a friend, “never expressed any bitterness toward anyone.”
He was a fisherman and a fisher of men. And, Altemese said, he didn’t leave his catches in the lake.
“He came back with fish,” she said.
Local editorials represent the opinion of the Post-Star editorial board, which consists of Publisher Rob Forcey, Editor Ken Tingley, Projects Editor Will Doolittle, Controller/Operations Director Brian Corcoran and citizen representatives Bob Tatko, Carol Merchant and Eric Mondschein.