the Controversial Committee Report
“We don’t raise sacred cows...we just butcher them.”
"The Coffee Shop Philosopher"
If you have ever had the opportunity to be at a coffee shop gathering when Dr. Ben Thomas was present and the topic evolved around sibling actions, then you certainly heard him say: "Mothers have sons…fathers have daughters."
That was Ben. And this was just one of the many sayings he had available to stress a point, or provide nuance to a topical point of view. And he probably owes William Shakespeare a huge royalty check for his vast knowledge and quoting of his writings.
Even though the Greeks nailed details of sibling relations, with a linkage to a specific parental personality, Ben continuously shared his vast knowledge of the ancient Roman and Greek philosophers to assure coffee shop attendees that what seemed to be current trends or actions were actually recognized and grounded in literature many years in the past.
With the passing of Dr. Ben Thomas, another shining, shooting star of a community icon has arced across ‘beautiful downtown Irving’ and burned out.
The night certainly grows darker.
Ben joins the likes of Jim Widener, Gerald Stavely, Bob Power and Dick Lear as one of the early foundation builders for what many recognize as the vibrant community Irving is today.
Ben generously gave back, to Irving and individuals, without any expectation of receiving anything in return. He believed this philosophy was tantamount in the building of a community for all to share and participate in by making the city better. And making Irving better was always at the top of Ben’s priority list.
There is no doubt his actions totally lacked egocentric motivation for personal achievement.
His extremely active participation in the community reflected leadership roles in the Irving Rotary Club — especially the youth exchange program; leadership of the Irving Chamber of Commerce; elected member of the Board of Trustees for the Irving ISD; charter member of the Irving Junto gathering; as well as leadership and financially supporting major activities of the Salvation Army and Irving Hospital Foundation which benefitted greatly from his measured, informed and temperamental approach brought to the table for all his community service.
Not one to enjoy or participate in verbal confrontations or heated rhetoric (especially political), his genial "siting on the middle of the fence" seemed to be a guide — regarding topics of the day — for those espousing unsubstantiated spin or ridiculous dogmatic points of view. Ben believed fact should super-cede emotional rationalization. His approach to differing points of view often included the art of compromise to achieve win/win situations for those involved.
An avid reader, world traveler, collector (probably boarding on hoarding specific classes of items), community participant and advocate, and friend to many, Ben was an uncommon element among the common, upper echelon, or the kids of those parents who knew him.
His intellect never failed. His experience base and approachable personality were always welcomed as he could espouse on nearly any topic hitting the table, or articulate on perspectives being considered by the city.
While his physical heath severely deteriorated and prevented him from celebrating his 90th birthday with his coffee shop gathering on July 2, 2016, he followed the tradition he initiated many years ago — buying breakfast for all those at the table. Ben believed this minor celebration and marking of a life’s milestone was just one way to express his support for those who believed in active community participation…regardless of paths chosen.
Another remarkable individual which Ben admired was Benjamin Franklin. And Franklin probably represents the essence of what Ben Thomas was all about when Franklin stated: "Your net worth to the world is usually determined by what remains after your bad habits are subtracted from your good ones."
With Ben Thomas, the only bad habit staff of the CCR was aware of was his daily ritual of eating a pecan waffle for breakfast. But Ben, like those who manage to overcome bad habits, did find a substitute. Ben finally effected change (mainly due to the gatherings at a new coffee shop location) and reverted to — two eggs over easy…much like he paced his life and service to Irving.
You get to know someone after having early morning coffee and conversation with them for 39-years. And while Ben offered advice and counsel, he also recognized reality. One of his chunks of wisdom imparted one morning was: "I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me." (Maya Angelou)
Perhaps, this is the essence of Dr. Ben Thomas. A good man with good skills and the philosophical intellect to advocate what was right, required change, or would better serve Irving…but in a genteel way.
Staff of the CCR sends their condolences to Bobbie and Ben’s family and friends. Their loss is Irving’s loss.
And sadly, this closes another chapter of remarkable community and public service pride rarely witnessed in ‘beautiful downtown Irving’ today.