Henry passed away peacefully on Tuesday January 2, 2024, at the UNC Hospice Home facility in Pittsboro, North Carolina.
He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, to Mary Russell Thomas and Henry Carrison Thomas.
Henry is survived by his wife, Linda; daughter, Elizabeth, and son-in-law, Derick, of Johnson City, Tennessee; and son, Jordan, of Redondo Beach, California. He is also survived by two siblings: Mary Ann Handel and brother-in-law Steve Handel of Bar Harbor, Maine; and Francis Thomas of Chicago, Illinois. Henry was preceded in death by his parents.
Henry “truly, madly, deeply” loved Linda, his wife of 44 years. He frequently and spontaneously brought her flowers – “just because” – to brighten her day. He shared his love of poetry, often reading her the William Yeats poem,
“When You Are Old”:
“But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.”
Henry was extremely proud of the accomplishments of his children as they made their way into adulthood, exuberantly sharing their latest adventure or award with anyone who asked after them.
Henry is remembered for his ready smile, his infectious sense of humor, his kindness, his wit and wisdom, his inquisitive nature (he never stopped wanting to learn), his giving spirit and loving heart, and his enthusiasm for life, relationships and community. His joie de vivre was evident to all, as he embraced everything that life offered – good food and wine; cooking (including extensive cookbook and cookware collections); entertaining and sharing his culinary skills with many (a small group of friends, a dinner club of 30 plus years, and open house holiday parties); traveling in the U.S. and throughout the world, especially to his beloved France; and meeting new people of all ages. He was a devoted student of the French language. He loved to read non-fiction, especially history, and he helped establish a book club that is still going strong after 20 years. Henry was always ready for the next adventure.
In the 1960s, Henry volunteered for the Peace Corps and was sent to Tetouan in Morocco. There, he developed enduring friendships and engaged with Arab, French and Spanish cultures and foodways.
Throughout his lifetime, Henry was involved in many causes from the civil rights and anti-war movements to the Moral Monday protests. He was one of the “Clean for Gene” volunteers -- riding a bus to Indiana in 1968 to knock on doors in support of Eugene McCarthy’s presidential bid. Henry also volunteered to cook for the homeless at the original Carrboro location (bringing the meal with you). This was a family affair and his children (in elementary school at the time) also participated. Later he joined a cook team from his church and prepared and served meals in the Chapel Hill homeless shelter. Shortly after retirement, Henry volunteered to read to young children at the same preschool his own children had attended. He even collected children’s books while on his travels to read to the kids.
Henry enjoyed a long career (over 30 years) with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, first in Chicago, then later in Durham and Research Triangle Park (RTP). For much of his career he worked on setting and implementing national air quality standards, including some early efforts to deal with the effects of sulfur dioxide and acid rain. He worked easily with a wide variety of people and was often called on to help resolve challenging personnel issues. Henry held many positions over the years, but at his retirement he was the Associate Director for Program Operations in the Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. He was very proud of the small contribution he made to “keep the air clean,” as he told his children.
Funeral services will be held on Saturday, January 20, 2024, at 1:00 pm at The Chapel of the Cross,