"It's easy to make a buck - it's a lot tougher to make a difference." ---- Tom Brokaw, American television anchor, author, and journalist
As a generality, history tends to repeat itself. In this vein, Simon Stephen Thomas's grandson Dr. Jerry Thomas, together with his lovely wife Lou Ann, made a recent, generous donation of a significant parcel of land at Thomas Elementary School to the Washington Parish School System.
The purpose of the donation was to aid in traffic flow at the school and to alleviate congestion on Highways 424 and 438 in Thomas. Accordingly, the new "Dr. Jerry Thomas By-pass" was born, accomplishing these goals. Following in his forefathers' footsteps - particularly those of his great-grandfather Simon Stephen Thomas - Dr. Jerry is, and has always been, committed to his community. Making a difference - the Thomas tradition.
Born in May of 1953 in Tylertown, Mississippi, the son of R. O. Thomas (1930 - 1994) and Frances Nelline Thomas (1929 - 2013), young Jerry was raised and educated in Washington Parish. An all-state basketball player, he was valedictorian of the class of 1971 at Thomas High School. Pursuing a career in medicine, in 1974 he graduated summa cum laude from Southeastern Louisiana University where he majored in zoology. Having found the perfect partner at SLU, Dr. Jerry married Lou Ann Pitre of Baton Rouge in 1976. The daughter of Harold Ray and Shirley Day Pitre, she was a teacher. And Dr. Jerry also was an educator, having taught science the spring semester of 1975 at Bowling Green.
I would be remiss if I didn't expound on the foray of Dr. Jerry into teaching, a valuable experience which harbors fond memories for him. As he explained, after he graduated from SLU in December, he was asked to finish out the academic year, teaching science at Bowling Green. Having a stellar academic background in science, Dr. Jerry taught classes ranging from junior high to high school in the subjects of chemistry, physics, and general science. And to this day, over 45 years later, he ardently remembers all of his students. After a lifetime of accomplishments, with success in both medicine and politics, Dr. Jerry - a school teacher for five months - views that semester as one of his life's highlights.
Relinquishing his role as a teacher at the end of that academic year, Dr. Jerry commenced medical training at Louisiana State University Medical School, graduating in 1979 as an M. D. - his calling. It was a busy year, 1979. This was the same year that he, both young and industrious, campaigned for coroner. Elected to the post - Coroner of Washington Parish - at age twenty-six, Dr. Jerry became the youngest Coroner in the history of Louisiana. Digressing, he defeated the incumbent, my father's friend Dr. John Newman. Re-elected to the post in 1983, by this time he had completed his internship at historic Charity Hospital, often referred to as Big Charity, in New Orleans and his residency at Washington-St. Tammany Charity Hospital in Bogalusa, becoming certified as a Doctor of Family Medicine, also in 1983 - another busy year. Back to teaching, that same year Dr. Jerry accepted a faculty appointment with the LSU School of Medicine, Department of Family Medicine (in Bogalusa and New Orleans), which he held until 1989.
Establishing his medical practice, he joined the medical staff of Washington-St. Tammany Regional Medical Center of Bogalusa in 1979 and then Riverside Medical Center (as of January 1, 1990). Notably, today he serves on the Board of Commissioners at Riverside. During the mid to late 1980s, Dr. Jerry also served as the Battalion Surgeon of the 205th Engineer Battalion of the Louisiana National Guard, which my father, former National Guard Commander, appreciated.
But the coroner post whet Dr. Jerry's appetite for politics. And he was just getting started. With political ambition and the desire to make a difference in our community, he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1987, soundly defeating powerful incumbent State Representative Lawrence "Buster" Sheridan. Re-elected in 1991, Dr. Jerry represented District #75, which was largely comprised of Washington Parish, and in 1992 became Chair of the Health and Welfare Committee. A man of the people, he was re-elected to the House again in 1995.
Still, Dr. Jerry found time for membership in professional and civic organizations including, but not limited to, Alpha Omega Alpha (the prestigious honor society in medicine), Washington Parish Medical Society, American Academy of Family Physicians, Louisiana State Medical Society, the American Medical Association, Krewe of MCCA Carnival Association, Future Farmers of America, Louisiana Farm Bureau, Franklinton Boosters Club, and the Louisiana National Guard Officers Club.
And he and wife Lou Ann are the proud parents of four children - Jason Aroe Thomas, M.D. (wife Kathryn), Juston Pitre "Pete" Thomas, Jerry Lander Thomas, and Joanna Day Thomas. They are the devoted grandparents of Evelyn, Eleanor, and Everett Thomas - son Jason's children; Jon-Ashton Dykes and Lily Thomas (son Pete's children); and Abrie, Landry and Rush Oliver Thomas (son Jerry Lander's children). Dr. Jerry and Ms. Lou Ann are members of Thomas First Baptist Church.
•Stay tuned for next week's column which picks up with politics and Dr. Jerry Aroe Thomas's significant service as State Senator for District 12 from 1999 to 2004 - making a difference for Washington Parish. As it is with so many things, timing is everything in politics.