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Mary L. Thomas, honored for community service

Dec. 25, 1929 – Feb. 15, 2014

Mary L. Thomas, who donated much of her time and money to helping other people, died Feb. 15 at HighPointe on Michigan Avenue after a short battle with pneumonia. She was 84.

Ms. Thomas was born in Buffalo and educated at Lafayette High School. Her first job was as a cab dispatcher.

She worked briefly at the U.S. Postal Service before graduating from high school, at which time she joined the U.S. Air Force.

Ms. Thomas attended boot camp in Biloxi, Miss., and served as an airman first class during the Korean War.

She graduated from Brockport State College and then went on to teach physical education at Baker Victory School for a few years, then served as a recreation instructor with the Buffalo Parks and Recreation Department from 1958 to 1986. While working for the parks department, she maintained her contact with Baker Victory School as an athletics coach.

For many years, Ms. Thomas served as a coach and timekeeper for women’s softball teams as well as organized dart and pool leagues.

She officiated at the Empire State Games and officiated at 5K and marathon road races.

Ms. Thomas, who once won nearly $250,000 in a New York State Lottery scratch-off game, gave most of the money away to charities and other individuals in need, friends said.

Ms. Thomas was honored by Mayor Byron W. Brown with an executive proclamation designating June 29, 2012, as “Mary Thomas Day” in Buffalo.

The mayor cited her “diligent service at community centers, her involvement in youth track meets, youth athletic activities, singing the national anthem at Gus Macker Tournaments, Buffalo Bisons games, in the City Council Chamber and at many other events in the city.”

A trustee of the Buffalo Police Athletic League, Ms. Thomas was also a member of Kenilworth United Church of Christ where she sang in the choir.

Ms. Thomas – the great-granddaughter of a Virginia slave who came through Buffalo via the Underground Railroad on the way to Canada only to return later and settle his family here – was the subject of a 2009 column in The Buffalo News at the time of President Obama’s first inauguration.

“It makes you feel good, that you are a part of history,” said Ms. Thomas in January 2009. “I’m a part of history.”

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday in Kenilworth United Church of Christ, 45 Dalton Drive, Town of Tonawanda.

A ceremony is also planned with a U.S. Air Force honor guard this summer.

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