Former Albemarle County Supervisor Rodney S. Thomas, a lifelong area resident and longtime businessman who was active in a variety of civic organizations, from government committees and church to the Boys & Girls Clubs, died Aug. 31 at 76, according to friends and family.
“He was a great friend and a mentor and he believed in himself, other people and his church,” said longtime friend Jim Carpenter. “He was a naturally honest person and loved to help others when he could. He’s going to be missed.”
Thomas, a Republican, served on the Board of Supervisors from 2010 to 2013 representing the Rio District. He also served on the county’s Planning Commission, the Charlottesville-Albemarle Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Regional Transit Authority Working Group.
“We served for four years together on the board and, while we might have had different positions on issues, we worked very well together,” said Supervisor Ann H. Mallek. “We knew each other before the board. Our children went to school together and we would often be cheering on the sidelines together.”
Thomas was key in 2011 to reviving the long-planned Western Bypass of U.S. 29. Along with fellow supervisor and MPO board member Duane Snow, Thomas was able to get assurances of funding for the project from the state, which set in motion the board’s controversial late-night vote to pursue the 6.2-mile road. Near midnight June 8, 2011, after then-Supervisor Lindsay G. Dorrier indicated he would support the project, the board voted, 4-2, to direct the Metropolitan Planning Organization to revive the plan. The project ultimately was ended in early 2014, when the Federal Highway Administration told officials to find alternatives to the road.
Thomas also served on the boards for the local Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCA. He was a 1999 graduate of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership at the University of Virginia and served on Sorensen’s regional board of directors. Thomas is a past board member of Crime Stoppers and past president of the Charlottesville Host Lion’s Club.
He was president of Charlottesville Press, a printing firm, from 1979 until it was sold in 2017. Prior to that, he served as press room supervisor at The Daily Progress and as a circulation manager.
“In addition to being a strong and influential small-businessman, my dad served his family, his church and his community with a passion,” said his daughter, Ashley Thomas Loftis. “He did everything with passion.”
Loftis said her father liked people, no matter whether they shared his political or religious beliefs.
“I think his strong suit was loving people. Dad met everyone exactly where they were in life,” she said. “He placed no judgment. He had a genuine interest in their story and he loved and included people with absolutely no reserve.”
Carpenter recalled that Thomas was a supportive friend, as well as a good boss and confidante.
“He was my district supervisor when I had a paper route at The Progress, and my father always said Rodney was one of the finest young men he had ever met and that I could follow in his footsteps.”
Thomas and Carpenter, a popular photographer, also attended Belmont Baptist Church together.
“We saw each other at church when we both worked at the paper and that just helped our friendship grow. Rodney helped convince me to accept being a deacon in the church,” Carpenter said. “I had doubts, but when other people believe in you like Rodney did, you can do a lot of things you don’t think are possible.”
Born at Martha Jefferson Hospital in 1943, when it was a community hospital located in downtown Charlottesville, Thomas attended Clark and Burnley-Moran schools. He graduated from Lane High School in 1962.
In 1967, he was both drafted into the U.S. Army and married Nancy Thomas.
“[They were] high school sweethearts, most known for dancing together. They loved to dance and were damn good dance partners,” Loftis said. “They were also great golfers. Dad supported Mom in her every endeavor. He was a very devoted husband.”
The couple had two children, Loftis and a son, Rod Thomas, as well as eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“Pop was a constant in our lives. He was our source of inspiration. He was never hesitant to express his love for us and did not miss an opportunity to tell us how proud he was of our accomplishments,” Loftis recalled. “He gave us the tool of confidence. He sharpened it by including us in yardwork and handiwork at our house or around Charlottesville Press. He was a fantastic teacher. He loved to watch us succeed, especially in an athletic arena.”
Loftis said her father continued to support them, even as he fell ill.
“Pop never let us believe that something was too difficult or unattainable,” she said. “If there was a way he could help us achieve our goals, he was always beside us, cheering us on. He did this until he took his last breath.”