James Henry Thomas, MD
May 26, 1921 – March 9, 2018
TUSCALOOSA - James Henry Thomas, MD, born May 26, 1921, died at DCH Regional Medical Center on Friday, March 9, 2018. A memorial service will be at held at 2 p.m. on March 12, 2018 in Randall Hall of Christ Episcopal Church in Tuscaloosa, with the Rev. David Meginniss, and the Rev. Dr. Catherine Collier officiating, and Heritage Chapel Funeral Home & Cremations, a Dignity Memorial Provider directing. Visitation and reception will follow the service. James was born in Centreville, Ala., the son of Ralph Cage Thomas and Chamintney Stovall Thomas. He was the eldest of four siblings, all of whom predeceased him – Carolyn Thomas Stewart (Mrs. Edward H. Stewart), Lois Thomas McGarity (Mrs. Owen McGarity), and Dr. Joab L. Thomas (Marly Dukes Thomas). He was also predeceased by his wives - Phebe Bibb Thomas and Cynthia Fitts Thomas. Dr. Thomas is survived by his children: Dr. James Benjamin Thomas of Dallas, Texas; Phebe Thomas Clawson (Vincent Rick Clawson) of Alpharetta, Ga.; John Langston Thomas (Dale Batchelor) of Raleigh, N.C.; and Dr. Lee Thomas (Anne Sondergaard) of Tuscaloosa; and six grandchildren: Dr. James Clawson (Dr. Dana Habeeb); Dr. Phebe Clawson Connors (David Connors); Emily Clawson Woolley (Dr. Jonathan Woolley); Stephen Clawson (Dawn Krouse); Hayden Gesten (Cordelia) and Lindsey Thomas Roberts (Jaime Roberts). He is survived by eleven great-grandchildren: Marlo and Madeleine Clawson, Phebe and William Connors; Wyatt, Josphine, Thomas and Henry Woolley; and Eliza, Genevieve and Harrison Clawson. James was born in Centreville, Ala., near his grandparents, Effie Stovall in Brent and William Henry and Martha Langston Thomas at Thomas Mill. As a young child he lived in a variety of places including Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, as his father sold encyclopedias to support his family while he worked toward a Ph.D. in Education at Columbia University. After the birth of Carolyn and Lois, Ralph decided to discontinue his graduate work. He moved his family to Russellville, Ala., where his wife Mittye taught music and Ralph was principal of the high school and then served as Superintendent of Schools for Franklin County. James was seven at the time of the move. His sisters were five and three. In 1933 his brother Joab, twelve years his junior was born. James was a good student and an outdoorsman. He was eleven years old when he had his hunting accident. He and a friend were hunting ducks on Tennessee Lake outside Russellville. James shot a duck and in order to retrieve it, put the gun down in the boat. It went off and the shot hit his leg at point blank range. The other boy ran to find a telephone; a call was made to James' mother who located a new doctor in town, Dr. Clayton. He came out of his office and asked someone on the street to show him the way to Tennessee Lake. James was taken to the hospital in Florence, Ala., twenty-five miles away, where his leg was amputated just below the knee. About a month after the surgery, when his uncle Dr. Joe Thomas visited, he found James prone and getting no exercise. Determined that this young boy would overcome his difficulties and live a normal life, Joe took James and his mother Mittye back to Holt, Ala., where he had his medical practice. James lived with Joe and his wife Annella for the spring semester. He walked to school using crutches until his uncle made a classical peg leg for him in his woodworking shop. In the summer James returned to Russellville, where he remained active, swimming and riding a bicycle with his friends. By the next school year he had his first prosthesis. James graduated from Russellville High School in 1930 and attended The University of Alabama, where he studied biology and botany. He worked his way through college by working numerous jobs. He was a talented pianist with a great ear and played beautiful and rich music. He graduated in three and a half years and began graduate work in Tuscaloosa, where there was a two-year medical school, offering courses in the basic sciences. In June of 1943, James and Phebe Bibb were married, and the following June their son Ben was born. When it was time to apply to other colleges for his clinical years, he was urged by one of his professors to apply to Harvard. There he studied with small groups of six or eight students and the teachers were many of the men he had read about. He wrote, "Without a doubt, my years at Harvard were one of my great blessings.'' After graduation, he began an internship at Pennsylvania Hospital. The hospital had an excellent staff and the experience was very good, leaving him with warm memories of Philadelphia. On December 21, 1946 their daughter Phebe was born, and James decided he needed to find a paying job. James was accepted for a surgical residency at Lloyd Nolan Hospital in Birmingham. Their second son John Langston was born there in 1950. From Birmingham, James returned to Tuscaloosa, where he was an active surgeon and physician for thirty-nine years. He was always supportive of diversity in the medical staff and throughout his life was a great supporter of educators and of countless students and people in many fields. He was very kind, gentle and loving in his nature and extremely capable in his work, whatever he undertook. In 1952, James and Phebe's son Lee was born. Because James was busy with his medical practice, he has written that he feels the success of his children is a credit to Phebe, who died unexpectedly from a coronary occlusion in 1980. James continued his surgical practice and began to see Cynthia Fitts, a widow whom he had known in Tuscaloosa. They were married in June 1982. Cynthia had five children and both families were harmonious and loving. Cynthia died following a heart attack on September 7, 2009. In 1989, Lee Thomas finished his Residency in General Surgery and came to Tuscaloosa to join James in his practice. When James fell, fracturing his left femur in 1990, he was almost seventy years old and decided to retire. James has said that he enjoyed all his years of practice and has enjoyed all of his retirement. Among his many honors, James Thomas served as Chief of Surgery, Chief of the Surgical Services, Chief of Staff, and was on the Board of Trustees of Druid City Hospital. He was President of the Tuscaloosa County Medical Society, and served on the State Committee for the American College of Surgeons. He was a strong supporter of the founding of the Tuscaloosa Symphony Orchestra and served on its Board. James began to have trouble walking in early March of 2018. He was taken to DCH Regional Medical Center on Tuesday, March 6 and died peacefully, surrounded by family, during the late afternoon on March 9. Condolences may be offered at www.heritagechapeltuscaloosa.com.
Dr. Thomas is survived by his children: Dr. James Benjamin Thomas of Dallas, Texas; Phebe Thomas Clawson (Vincent Rick Clawson) of Alpharetta, Ga.; John Langston Thomas (Dale Batchelor) of Raleigh, N.C.; and Dr. Lee Thomas (Anne Sondergaard) of Tuscaloosa; and six grandchildren: Dr. James Clawson (Dr. Dana Habeeb); Dr. Phebe Clawson Connors (David
Connors); Emily Clawson Woolley (Dr. Jonathan Woolley); Stephen Clawson (Dawn Krouse); Hayden Gesten (Cordelia) and Lindsey Thomas Roberts (Jaime Roberts). He is survived by eleven great-grandchildren: Marlo and Madeleine Clawson, Phebe and William Connors; Wyatt, Josphine, Thomas and Henry Woolley; and Eliza, Genevieve and Harrison Clawson.
Dr. Thomas is also survived by his Fitts family: Ann Everingham Russell (Henry N. Russell) and their daughters Ann Everingham Ainsworth (Austin Ainsworth) and Caroline Russell; Stephen N. Fitts, Jr. (Ouida) and their children Stephen Noble Fitts III (Rebekah Sanders); Jonathan Lucas Fitts (Leah Troxler); and Rebekah Elizabeth Fitts; Lewis Ford Fitts (Carrie Anglin) and children Lewis Ford Fitts II, Rachel Wimberley Fitts, Mary Walton Fitts, Chelsea Elizabeth Anglin and Courtney Blair Anglin; and Cynthia Fitts Hollingsworth (William Joseph Broughton III) and children Cynthia Isabel Brasher (Bradley Colvin Brasher), Mary Noble Hollingsworth Braden (Jonathan Wesley Braden); Jackson Hollingsworth, Jr. (Louise Eileen Kirby); and Frank Fitts III and children Frank Fitts IV, Madeline Noble Fitts, and Grace Everingham Fitts; and Kristine Fitts. Great grandchildren in this family include Walton and Noble Ainsworth, Elizabeth, Noble, Murphy and Sanders Fitts; Eli and Wilder Brasher; Foster and Lily Braden and Chandler Hollingsworth.
- Memorial Service Monday, March 12, 2018