He rose from a meager background to become a household name in the Laurel community, being the first full-time State Farm Insurance agent.
Now friends and family are remembering Eugene "Gene" Thomas for his many successes, both personally and professionally.
Thomas, age 90, passed away on Sunday, June 2, 2019 at his home. Funeral services are set for today, Wednesday, June 5 at House-Rawlings Funeral Home.
Thomas was raised in Laurel County and worked various jobs before joining State Farm Insurance company in 1959. Like many men of that era, Thomas had to leave the area in search of better job opportunities.
But it was in Portland, Oregon that Thomas joined the U.S. Navy in the post World War II era of the late 1940s, where he served two years for his country before returning home.
He married Elsie Elizabeth Cornett and the couple had two children, Jeanne Thomas Smith and Judy Thomas Phelps.
Thomas was known as a 'outdoorsman' who spent much of his life fishing, hunting, horseback riding and golfing.
He made annual hunting trips out west with different groups of guys, hunting deer or elk or whatever. He loved horses and owned several, including a favorite, Black Jack, that he had for years. He was also an avid reader and, with his school teacher wife, promoted education. Phelps said that both his daughters and all four grandchildren earned college degrees through the encouragement of Thomas and his wife.
Thomas was also involved in his community. He was a past president of the Cumberland Valley Saddle Club and member of the Lions Club, London Jaycees and involved with the London-Laurel County Chamber of Commerce. He was also a Master Mason in the McKee Lodge in London for 65 years and was a member of the Scottish Rite for 50 years. He was often seen driving one of the Shriners' mini trucks in area parades with the Oleika Temple Shriners with the group "Truckin' Fezes." Thomas was the operator of the red truck that wooed children and adults during the parades in downtown London.
Bridget Dunaway, London attorney, is Thomas' niece and said he was known for his "big heart."
"I always admired him as a business person and involvement in the community," she said. "He was very good to his parents, his wife and children and grandchildren - to all his family," Dunaway said. "He literally started out with nothing in the days of hard work and business savvy with his outgoing personality. He was truly a self-made business man."
Thomas set numerous records for the company and achieved the prestigious President's Club award, which is for being one of the top 50 agents in the nation. He was a leader in the state but the President's Club was a national award.
Thomas retired from State Farm Insurance in 1996 but was a major influence in the career choices of some of his family members.
His daughter, Judy Phelps, followed in his footsteps, starting her own State Farm Insurance agency in 1981. His nephew, Mike Thomas, started out with State Farm Insurance and retired in 2018 as Claims Superintendent in the Indiana region.
"He was very much like a second father to me," Mike said. "I remember once when I was about in the third grade, we were camping and Gene looked at me and said, "When the time comes for you to go to college, I'll see that you go." I probably didn't even know what college was at that age, but Gene made sure that I got to go to college."
In fact, Mike came to live with the Thomas family when he was 15 years old and he did indeed go to college.
"He was my hero," Mike said. "Those things really shape you as a person - when someone sets a standard for you and gives you something to aim for. He did that for me and without that, I don't know what or if I would have aimed at any goals. I think he will always be remembered for that because he touched a lot of lives."