Biography of Frank W. Thomas
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Frank W. Thomas, who had had an active connection with the Atchison, Topeka & Sapta Fe Railway Company since 1902 and is superintendent of apprentices, with headquarters at Topeka, is the only member of his family, a very brilliant and prominent Virginia household, to leave the state.
Mr. Thomas was born in Martinsville, Henry County, Virginia, nine miles from the historic town of Roanoke. His father, C. Y. Thomas, was a man of more than ordinary distinction in Virginia in the last half of the nineteenth century. From an early age he was almost constantly in public life and held many offices of trust. He was an attorney of ability, served in the Virginia senate before the Civil war, and was an adviser of his distinguished brother-in-law, Paton Gravely, who represented Henry County in a very critical period of the state’s history.
As a member of the Virginia State Senate C. Y. Thomas struggled to prevent that state from seceding from the Union. Although most of his neighbors and friends were secessionists, he openly but quietly avowed his sympathies for the Union. In spite of this, he held the office of commonwealth attorney through the period of the Civil war. During the war the Confederate Government also appointed him to distribute supplies to the needy families of the Confederate soldiers.
After the war President Grant appointed him military governor for the State of Virginia. That was not only a distinction but a great opportunity for serving his beloved commonwealth, and though apparently no other man seemed so well fitted for the position, he refused it because be believed he had disqualified himself during the war by distributing food to the Confederate families while the soldiers were on the firing line. His refusal was a matter of conscience, and special mention is made of it to illustrate what a high-minded honorable gentleman he was in all of life’s relations.
After the war C. Y. Thomas became a representative of Henry County in the new convention which framed the constitution for Virginia. It seemed that no other delegate exercised as much influence for good as he. To him belongs particularly the credit of having the public school systefn inaugurated under a provision of that constitution. Virginia and other states besides have honored him for his strong influence in behalf of public schools. Though for years he was the most trusted man in Virginia in the sight of the administration at Washington, particularly when President Grant was in office, he lost none of that love and high esteem which the people of the state held for him. He was not only a lawyer but a true statesman. With all his breadth of view he had a genius for detail. He was treasurer of his county for many years and unlike most incumbents of that office, he kept his books in perfect order. His public career covered a long period of years. A number of years before the Civil war he was a colleague of the Hon. Henry A. Wise, and afterwards he served as a member of Congress from the Fifth Virginia District.
This distinguished Virginian had for his wife a woman of unusual intelligence and intellectual attainments. She was the daughter of Col. Daniel Reamey and Mrs. Susan Sterling Reamey of Henry County. Through the maternal side of the family she was the great-granddsughter of Maj. John Redd of the colonial and revolutionary period. The Reamsys were an old French Huguenot family and traced their origin through the Reameys of Campaigne and Lorraine to the locality of the forests of Dom Remy. They are descendants from collateral relatives of Jeanne D’Are. As a family they are characterized by exceptional brilliancy of intellect, and the name had been borne by men of distinction on both sides of the water.
Mrs. Mary Reamey Thomas was educated at the old Greensborough Female College under the presidency of the then distinguished educator Dr. Charles F. Deems, afterwards founder and pastor of the world-famons Church of the Strangers in New York City. An estimate of this beautiful and cultured Virginia woman can best be told in the language of one who knew her and who had written of her as follows: “As a student she was exceptionally precocious and was a constant surprise to her friends by the ease with which she mustered subjects and the tenacity with which she remembered everything she read. The writer remembers having met Dr. Deems in New York twenty-five years ago and to have casually asked him the question if he remembered a sehool girl by the name of Mary Reamey. He answered with enthusiasm: ‘Never forget her so long as I live. She was the most brilliant and satisfaetory student I have ever had the pleasure of teaching.’
“Only one slight irregularity is charged up to her account in the college tradition of her time, and that is characteristic of her intellectual supcriority and the tendeney of her immediate associates at all periods of her life to depend on her. She was suspected of being the author of every essay read by the gradnation class on Commencement day. Dr. Deems believed in the truth of the rumor, and Mrs. Thomas could never be induced to disecuss it.
“In endeavoring to make an estimatc of the intelleetual life of this exeeptional woman, two or three striking meutal traits and items of early training should be noticed. To start with, she had a prodigious memory, so that, notwithstanding the vast breadth of her course of reading and the rapidity with which she read and mustered a book, she never seemed to forget. For example, she read ‘The Country Doctor,’ by Balzae when it was first translated into English. Thirty-five years later, without having reviewed it, she told a friend the whole story with all its complexity of plot and all its wealth of details, in such thrilling and interesting fashion that it took the novelty out of the book when he afterwards endeavored to read it. This illustration, striking as it is, is not exceptional in her case.
“In contrast with the hastily, slavishly written occasional letters of today between friends, we find that she kept up a regular correspondence with one of her classmates from the time of graduation to the inception of her final illness, and the interest was sustalned to the last. Her personal correspondence collected together would fill volumes, and would cover a wide and interesting variety of subjects. As a conversationalist she was easy, unaffected and always spontaneous. There was no effort and no posing. The strongest impression that one could get by talking with her and hearing her talk was a certain sense of her reserve force. You would have a comfortable feeling that there was no danger of exhausting her stock of knowledge. The ideal thing in the enjoyment of literature is not merely to read a book but for two persons to have read a book and then to discuss it together. In a conversation of this kind she was particnlarly happy because of her excellent memory, her exceptionally strong grasp of the plot of a story, and her appreciation of its finest points. Not only this, but in conversation she was uncommonly flexible and adaptable to the demands of the occasion. Therefore, as many grateful persons have reason to remember, her conversation in the sick room not only never disturbed, but was always soothing to the mind of the patient and her very preseuce was a benediction and a blessing.”
C. Y. Thomas and Mary Reamey Thomas had born to them eight children. Their names were Lewis Starling, hope, Faith, John, Catherine, Susanna and Frank W. All the children except Frank are still living in and near the old Virginia home.
Mr. Thomas received his early education in the public schools of Martinsville, took an academic course at the Ruffener Polytechnie Institute at Blacksburg, Virginia, and on leaving that institute took employment in the. Norfolk & Western Railroad at Roanoke as an apprentice in the machine shop. From that he was soon advanced to inspector of materials, filled that position a year, and then became mechanical engineer for a railroad supply house at Chicago. A year later he was made master mechanic of the Hudson Valley Traction Company.
In 1902 Mr. Thomas came to the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe as instructor of engineering. In 1907 he was made superintendent of apprentices, an office which he still holds.
In 1896 he married Miss Elizabeth Carson of Roanoke, Virginia. Her father, Dr. Thomas E. Carson, was a well and favorably known physician at Roanoke. Three sons have been born to Mr. and Mrs. Thomas: Christopher Yauncey, Thomas Carson and Frank W. h.