The next class that we had after I had asked him a seemingly small question on Barth, led to a brown paper bag sitting on my desk with a few new, great smelling books that he hoped would continue to help me ask more questions, keep up the conversation, and spur me on towards greater learning. Over the four years in college, and the next four years afterwards, we kept in touch, meeting occasionally for a meal, to discuss my going to seminary, to meet other prominent professors, to introduce Shey to some fantastic art historian, or just to catch up...he always listened, and he helped me to believe in myself in ways that I had never believed in myself before. He asked great questions, and he somehow kept ahead of the curve theologically, and was in tune with a broad swath of conversations and theological discussions across the spectrum.
Dr. Thomas passed away the right before I graduated from seminary, and the news was sent to me while Shey was in the hospital, in the middle of some of the worst weeks of my life thus far. To be honest, I haven't even begun to process the hole that is in my life now that he is gone. His death represents so much more than simply an absence of guidance, great questions, and insight...his absence is sorely missed as I evaluate Ph.D. programs, read a new theologian, or simply need a helpful voice to speak into my life. I know that I wasn't the only one impacted by this generous, humble, and kind man, he had a way of impacting every student in one way or another that he came in contact with.
So as I read tonight:
The Rev. Dr. William W. Thomas, Honorably Retired pastor
The Rev. Dr. William W. Thomas, age 74 and Honorably Retired pastor, died on Saturday, May 24, 2008, at the Bridgewater Nursing Home in Bridgewater, VA. Dr. Thomas was a longtime resident of Harrisonburg and retired from James Madison University as a full professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion in 1997. Since then, he taught at JMU on a part-time basis and continued his involvement with the students, faculty and staff at JMU. Prior to teaching at JMU, he taught summer sessions at Bridgewater College.
He was the last survivor of his immediate family. The Rev. Thomas Reynolds will conduct a graveside service at 2 p.m. Tuesday, May 27, at St. Matthew's Cemetery adjacent to Reformation Lutheran Church in New Market, VA.
Memorial contributions may be made to Bridgewater Nursing Home or Bridgewater College, Bridgewater, Va.
from an email that I can't get myself to take out of my inbox, I was jostled a bit, because Dr. Thomas' life has left a lasting handprint into the very way that I see the world, and his generosity, kindness, humility, challenge, and strong spirit I know lives with me as I try to live and learn as he taught me. The truth is: I miss him. In the midst of the pain of watching Shey and Rowan fight to make it, I simply ran out of tears to cry, and so tonight, as the tears well up, I know that it wasn't because I didn't care then, that is when I first heard, that I didn't cry. It was because I had nothing else to give.
So tonight, Dr. Thomas, as we come closer to celebrate Rowan's two years of life in June, we will also remember you, and pray that we can spur on and spark in Rowan the joy of God, life, theology, hope, and curiosity that you worked so hard to create and cultivate in both Shey and I. Thank you for believing in me and helping me to believe that with some hard work, we can grow, learn, and open our minds to amazing things if we are just willing to listen and be open to the great diversity of ways that God can work in the world.