Charles A. Thomas
Charles A. Thomas of Lake Placid passed away peacefully at the age of 97 on April 4. For the past two years he had been a resident of Elderwood of Uihlein at Lake Placid. He was predeceased by his beloved wife Ellen, to whom he was married for 64 years, and by his sister Alberta Salvetti of Syracuse.
Charles is survived by son Christopher Thomas and his wife Debra of Denver, Colorado; son Charles Thomas of Lake Placid; daughter Kathleen Thomas of Lake Placid; grandson Christopher Thomas of Denver; granddaughter Kathryn Thomas of Denver; and several nieces and nephews.
Charles was born Oct. 26, 1921, in Buffalo, the son of Albert Thomas of Buffalo and Josephine Garzonio Thomas of Milan, Italy. He was raised in Syracuse by his extended Italian-American family, who operated a restaurant and speakeasy in the days of prohibition. If his childhood lacked stability, it certainly did not lack color.
During the Second World War, Charles served in the U.S. Army paratroopers, stationed in Europe and the Philippines. For three years he witnessed atrocities, absurdities and suffering on all sides of the conflict. He was honorably discharged from the Army and emerged a man of peace. Returning to civilian life, Charles pursued a formal education. He received an associate’s degree in liberal arts from Paul Smith’s College, a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature from LeMoyne University, and a master’s degree in education from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.
While working one summer at the Saranac Inn Golf Course, Charles met Ellen Juckett, whom he married in 1953. The young couple taught together for a year at the Ticonderoga Central School and then relocated to New City with their little daughter.
Charles taught for the next 26 years in the Clarkstown Central School District in Rockland County, at both elementary and secondary levels. He also taught English at Rockland Community College in Ramapo. Teaching was his true vocation. Charles had an insatiable intellectual curiosity and found nothing more fulfilling than imparting his knowledge to others in imaginative ways. He had a knack for gently opening a closed mind. He was particularly gifted with learning-disabled children and troubled youths. Charles was a passionate advocate of a liberal arts education, in which the fine arts are incorporated into the curriculum.
In 1981, Charles and Ellen retired from teaching and moved to Lake Placid. Charles now had time to pursue his lifelong interest in the life and work of Robert Louis Stevenson. His scholarship focused on the influence of dreams and nightmares on Stevenson’s body of work, and the way in which the conscious and subconscious minds collaborate in the creative process. He delved deeply into the mysterious novella “Olalla,” which was derided and misinterpreted in Stevenson’s day, and which remains underappreciated and misunderstood. In additional to his scholarly papers, Charles wrote poetry, screenplays and a delightful children’s story titled “Pistachio,” about the adventures of a green-haired rabbit.
Charles was always the Good Samaritan, literally stopping to help anyone in his path who seemed to be in any kind of distress. His most significant philanthropic work concerned the Haitians, who had fled wretched poverty and the oppressive regime of Jean-Claude Duvalier in the early 1980s. One hundred forty-seven of them, mostly young men, were detained at the federal prison in Ray Brook. Already fluent in French, Charles taught himself the Creole language spoken by the Haitians, which then enabled him to teach them to read and write English. Charles arranged for several of the Haitian detainees to exhibit their artwork at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts. He was also very vocal about the injustices the Haitians endured in this country during the Reagan administration. Ultimately, the Haitians were permitted to remain in the U.S. Many of them became citizens and productive members of society, and Charles maintained enduring friendships with several of them.
Charles loved the outdoors and regarded the Adirondacks as his true home. He enjoyed hiking, golfing, cross-country skiing, swimming and gardening, and he had an avid interest in local history. Charles remained physically and intellectually active until his early 90s. Charles was cheerful, humorous, gregarious and quite a storyteller. Above all, he loved his family. He was a devoted husband, father, uncle and grandfather. He was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. The family wishes to thank Charles’ caregivers at Elderwood of Uihlein at Lake Placid. Those who wish to remember Charles may do so with a donation in his honor to the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial Cottage in Saranac Lake. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated on Friday, April 12, at 3 p.m. at St. Agnes Church in Lake Placid.
The M.B. Clark Inc. Funeral Home in Lake Placid is in charge of arrangements. Relatives and friends are invited to share a memory or leave condolences at www.mbclarkfuneralhome.com.