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Ron Thomas ’76—Commanding Respect

Steve Charles—Returned from vacation to find that last week we lost Captain Ron Thomas ’76—U.S. Navy (Retired), husband, father, and a man of faith. I don’t know how he died, and I can’t begin to fathom why.

On the website carrying his obituary a chaplain who had served with Ron when he was Captain of the U.S.S. Essex (LHD 2) wrote: "He was a fantastic boss and role model. He will be sorely missed."

In my third year as editor at Wabash I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron, soon after he took command of the U.S.S Anchorage in 1997. We titled the article "Commanding Respect," but "inspiring admiration" might have a better headline. The two-page feature showed the Anchorage on one page, and Ron with his wife, Cleo, and sons Matthew (then seven) and Marc (then four), on the other.

Here’s what Ron said about the inherent tension between being a captain of a Navy ship (and spending six months a year at sea) and being a father:

"You have to make the most of your time together. There’s no greater joy you can get at the end of a hard day than to have the boys run out before you can even get the seatbelt unbuckled and want to be close to you. And you can imagine what that’s like when you’ve been gone for six months! There’s sacrifice, but there’s joy as well.

"You do these things to try to keep your family together, and you pray and keep your faith strong."

Here’s Ron on the Gentleman’s Rule:

"If I had to say there was one thing that Wabash gave to me that my contemporaries didn’t get from whatever school they went to, it would be that rule. It has to do with leadership—it forces you to operate based on your own personal character as opposed to a set of rules. A person has to look at that one rule—carry yourself as a gentleman at all times—and ask, ‘What does that mean?’ To me it means that your own personal integrity is worth far more than a whole bunch of rules. It’s your own personal integrity that’s going to make the difference in your life."

You can read the entire article here.

We have lost about as good a man as you are likely to find.