Skip to Main Content

George Thomas Jr.

(Virginia & St John's 1957) (2 August 1935 - 10 March 2023)

George Bryson Thomas Jr. died at home on March 10, 2023. George was born on August 2, 1935, to Catherine McPherson Thomas and George Bryson Thomas in Norfolk, Virginia. He had happy memories of growing up on Willoughby Spit and elsewhere in Norfolk. He is predeceased by his sister, Anne T. Thomas who was one year younger and an important part in that happy childhood.

He graduated from Granby High School and went to University of Virginia on a newly-created Congressional Regional scholarship. He delighted in academic and other activities at UVA. A favorite memory when president of the Jefferson debating Society was getting the authors William Faulkner and John Dos Passos together, even though the expected witty repartee didn't materialize. Fraternity Phi Gamma Delta, the Raven Society, sports editor for Cavalier Daily, managing the men's lacrosse team, living in room 27 on the Lawn, summers selling shoes and other eclectic activities filled those 4 years, graduating in 1957. A few collegiate honors included honorary Omicron Delta Kappa, Pi Delta Epsilon, Phi Eta Sigma, and Phi Beta Kappa. He credited a particular undergraduate seminar with making him realize that what he wanted was a life in academia.

As a 1957- 59 Rhodes Scholar at St. John's College in Oxford, George cemented his love of the study of Philosophy as well as European political history. He joined the men's crew team at St. John's. He also gained skill at climbing the college walls when games of bridge got him out past the deadline. Although he didn't play bridge for over 50 years, he returned to it in his last year, thanks to friends at University Village.

A PhD in Philosophy followed at Harvard University in 1963. He and Sally Hyde got married that summer in her parents' home in Oregon and he joined the University of Virginia Department of Philosophy and started his 40-plus years of teaching and writing there. He often said that he could hardly believe he was getting paid to do what he so thoroughly enjoyed doing. Countless students over those years were challenged to think through ancient puzzles like whether there is free will. His seminars on Emmanuel Kant were particularly well-known. He served as Chair of the Philosophy Department for many years. He retired from the Philosophy Department in 2002 but continued to teach for the Philosophy Department until 2010 as well as at OLLI.

In his whole life, George was most proud of his daughters, Laura Gwen Thomas and Nancy Ellen Thomas, of San Francisco. Nancy died in 2021, and our daughter-in-law, Kanani Kauka died in 2018. Nancy's partner Todd Weaver remains a part of our family.

A quick student of languages, and a devotee of history, George was a extraordinary traveller to foreign countries, especially if there were operas to attend. Operas were a life-long passion, from listening to the Metropolitan Opera every weekend to surviving the full Wagner Ring cycle in San Francisco. He was a long-time supporter of the Charlottesville Opera (including hosting visiting musicians every summer). The sister-city relationship with Poggio a Caiano, Italy, especially, provided delightful excursions and friendships.

A life-long athlete until his mobility declined in later years, he enjoyed running, tennis, and squash. He went bungee jumping in Bergen, Norway for his 61st birthday and sky diving for the first (and last) time at 63. After retiring, he volunteered for many years with the Emergency Food Network. He was a dedicated political spouse supporting his wife Sally's campaigns and lengthy career on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors.

George loved the many cats the family lived with over the years, from Pariah, the cat that Sally and George adopted as newlyweds, through Sam, who just showed up at the house one day, and Teddy, the cat who was with him when he died. He insisted in speaking Italian to the cats, as they seemed to understand that just as well as they did English. He was notorious for attempting to reason with the cats, carefully explaining to them exactly WHY they should not be on the table. That worked as well as you would imagine it did.

Although George loved the family's old home in West Leigh, and his pioneering of organic vegetable gardening, he discovered that condominium life was a delight for his final years: so many friends, so many conversations. Thank you to University Village residents for his final happy years. And thank you to UVA doctors for helping him deal for 62 years with Type 1 diabetes and all its effects and to the Hospice of the Piedmont for making the last year of his life more comfortable.