Mary Thomas is a giver.
You may not recognize her name because she is one of our community’s unsung heroes working quietly behind the scenes to help others.
Though her name may be unfamiliar, if you’ve lived in Waxahachie for a while, odds are your paths have likely crossed without even knowing it.
I can’t even begin to count how many lives she’s touched through her work as a volunteer in the WISD Band Boosters, the Waxahachie Optimist Club, Boy Scouts and the Waxahachie Youth Baseball Association.
I’m sure there’s more, but these are just the organizations that I’ve been involved in with Mary, having the privilege of working with her for the past 15 years and seeing her go above and beyond the call of duty to help others on a daily basis.
For the past several years, she has also been a fixture at the Optimist Pool on Patrick Street, helping the club manage the pool and being a mentor for the kids during the summer season.
Then the unthinkable happened a few months ago.
This spring, while helping the Optimist Club prepare the pool for the season, Mary began experiencing health problems. She began losing weight. And her energy level, which has always been comparable to the Energizer Bunny, was completely zapped.
After doctor visits and tests and more doctor visits, Mary received the news that she has cancer — and it is in an advanced stage.
Expectedly, it’s been a rough couple of months for her family.
But Mary, being the person she is, hasn’t lost her quirky sense of humor — or her compassion to help others.
Of all the years I’ve known her, Mary Thomas has always been a role model.
Even now she continues to be a mentor and a motivator.
She leads by example.
When faced with adversity, she responds with courage and valor.
Like many others in the community, I am honored to call Mary Thomas my friend.
Our friendship began in 1998 when my family moved to Waxahachie.
Mary and her husband Dale have three children — Jessica, Jeremy and Jenna — all around the same age as my children.
Between Boy Scouts, youth baseball, the Optimist Club and band, our families have been interlocked. My wife Kathy and I both feel blessed that Mary and Dale “adopted us” when we moved to Waxahachie. Their friendship and compassion certainly eased the transition of moving to a new city in a new state and to a large extent, made us feel like we belonged here.
Over the years that friendship has grown exponentially with each passing year.
Looking back, there have been so many wonderful family moments that have been enriched because of Mary and her family.
And we’re not alone.
The Thomas home has always been filled with kids.
They live in a modest, old wood-frame home with modest furnishings.
They don’t have a pool or a big television or high-tech stereo.
But as their children were growing up, the Thomas home has always been a focal point where Jessica and Jeremy and Jenna’s friends wanted to spend their free time.
And before you jump to any conclusions, you have to understand that Mary and Dale are very involved in their children’s lives. Education and homework are top priorities. While their door was always open, you better be prepared to do your homework before even thinking about turning on the TV or getting a board game out of the closet. On many occasions, Mary will have them pull their books out of their backpack, sit down at the kitchen table and help them as best she can until their work is done.
Every kid that’s ever walked through their door knows that Mary and Dale treats them with the same respect, love and dedication as if they were their own child.
I couldn’t begin to tell you how many kids Mary and Dale have “unofficially adopted” over the years. But I can tell you all three of our children consider the Thomas’ their second home.
One of the moments I will always cherish happened in the summer of 2001 as our families were working at the fireworks booth helping to raise funds for the WISD Band Boosters.
It was a hot, muggy day and we were all exhausted when it came our time for a break.
Kathy and I grabbed a soda out of the cooler and looked for a shady spot to sit down when Mary and Jessica walked over.
Jessica was going into her senior year at WHS and had just been offered a Naval ROTC scholarship at Boston University. It was a tremendous honor, but Mary was nervous about letting her go into the military.
Knowing that I had served in the Navy, Jess asked me if I would talk to Mary.
I told Mary that it was a great opportunity and I felt Jess would excel as a Navy officer.
That didn’t help ease her mind.
I told her that while no job is 100 percent safe, from my experience I felt a lot safer working on a warship deployed at sea than I did driving through rush hour traffic in downtown Dallas.
Mary had a lot of questions.
I did my best to answer them all as candidly as I could.
Like any mom, she was nervous.
I looked at Jess and asked if this was something she truly wanted to do, making sure she realized the responsibilities and commitment it required after she earned her degree.
She looked at me and then she looked at her mom.
“This is what I want to do,” she said.
I told Mary that she needed to let Jess accept the scholarship. I told Mary that Jess would not only be fine, she would become the kind of officer that I would be honored to serve under.
Mary nodded her head.
“OK kiddo,” she told Jess. “You have my blessing.”
Jess gave me a hug and then ran off to join her friends.
As soon as she was out of earshot, Mary grabbed my arm and gave it a squeeze to make sure she had my full attention.
“You better pray you’re right,” she told me in a tone that left me wondering if she was kidding or not.
To this day, I’m still not really sure.
In 2006, Jessica earned her bachelor’s degree from Boston University and received her commission aboard the USS Constitution.
Mary and Dale invited our youngest son Alex to attend Jess’ graduation and commissioning — as well as visit Fenway Park where Jess worked part-time in the front office to cover her living expenses during college.
It was an experience that Alex still talks about on a regular basis.
A few years later, Jess invited Alex to videotape her wedding.
The ceremony was held near the naval base where she was stationed in Bremerton, Wash.
Mary, Jenna and Jeremy had driven up the week before to assist with the wedding preparations. Alex flew up with Dale two days before the ceremony.
Mary tells this story much better than I, but I’ll do my best to give it justice.
Dale and Alex were supposed to make a connection at the Los Angeles International Airport on the last flight of the night to Seattle. For some reason, and I don’t remember if the flight was cancelled or they arrived at LAX too late to make the connection, but they missed the flight — and the next flight to Seattle wasn’t until early the next morning.
Alex, having never been to California and being my son, didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to see Los Angeles — even if it was just the view from the front of LAX. So, he convinces Dale to go out of the terminal and walk around.
Again, Mary tells this story so much better, because she just goes on and on about Dale and Alex walking around L.A. in the middle of the night, including a line about sleeping on a park bench in front of the airport.
Every time she tells it, I’m laughing so hard it brings tears.
Dale let’s her go on for a while before he finally pipes in.
“Look,” he said, as straight-faced as he can be. “It ain’t that big of a deal. I served in the Marine Corps. They trained me to do a whole bunch of things, including how to protect generals and dignitaries in hostile environments. I think I can handle walking in front of an airport terminal with a teenager.”
There are so many of my family’s special memories that involve Mary and her family.
There was our oldest son Zakk’s Eagle Scout community service project of painting the Optimist pool building. As usual, I had to work, but I went over on my lunch break to take photos. I arrived to find Mary and Kathy literally covered head-to-toe in paint.
It was no different when Jeremy did his Eagle project replacing the windows at the Optimist Youth Center.
And to my knowledge, Mary hasn’t missed a WHS band performance in over a decade — and if she has it was probably because she was working in the concession stand and couldn’t take a break when the band took the field.
And long after Jeremy stopped playing baseball, you could always find Mary in the bleachers cheering for Alex or one of her other “adopted kids.”
Every time I saw her in the stands I knew that she didn’t have to be there, but she knew how important it was to the kids and she never missed a game.
But that’s Mary.
She is a giver.
Always quietly working behind the scenes.
She has never sought attention. In fact, she gets mad if you try and put her in the spotlight.
She told me once that’s not why she volunteers or helps others.
She does it because she believes that’s how God intended for us all to live.
For weeks after the diagnosis, Mary didn’t want anyone outside of her family and a very small circle of friends to know about her condition.
As active as she has been in the community for so many years, and with so many people who love and care about her, that became a very difficult promise to keep.
Undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments to shrink the tumor and combat the cancer cells, she has good days and bad days.
Her presence has been missed at the Optimist Pool this summer, especially by the kids.
As a way to show both support and appreciation, the Waxahachie Optimist Club will hold “Mary’s Day” at the pool from 1-7 p.m. on Thursday, July 25.
It’s also Mary’s 55th birthday.
The Optimist Club is donating all proceeds from admissions that day to Mary and her family. They have also set up a collection jar at the concession stand and will be accepting donations throughout the season.
“Our goal is to raise enough money to at least replace her loss of income that she would have earned managing the pool this summer,” said David Hudgins, who serves on the Waxahachie Optimist Club board. “I know they could use help with medical expenses. We just want to do whatever we can to help out. She has done so much for our organization and for this community. She has always been there for us. Now its our turn to do something for her.”
In addition to admission proceeds, the Optimists will also hold a food drive to help stock the Thomas’ pantry as Mary still has nearly two months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments ahead.
Food donations may be dropped off at the Optimist Pool, 219 Patrick St.
Dale, Jessica, Jeremy and Jenna said that Mary will be at the pool on Thursday, and will stay as long as she can.
While she would rather no one make a fuss over her (I do expect to get a call around 7 a.m. Sunday for putting this on the front page), I can tell that she’s looking forward to seeing all of her friends — especially the kids.
I’m not a doctor, but I believe in my heart if she received a happy birthday hug from everyone whose life she’s touched over the years, the effect would be more powerful than any medicine.
Please plan on stopping by the Optimist Pool Thursday during Mary’s Day. Make a donation if you can. More importantly, give her a birthday hug and let her know she’s not fighting this battle alone.
Neal White is the Editor of Waxahachie Newspapers Inc. Contact Neal at email@example.com or 469-517-1457. Follow Neal on Facebook at Neal White – Waxahachie Newspapers Inc., or on Twitter at wni_nwhite.