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Bow ties were in abundance Monday morning at Brown Funeral Home as friends, loved ones and former colleagues of R.R. “Babe” Thomas paid their last respects to the man Brother Mike Bell referred to as a “precious stone” for Hardin County.
Thomas, whose bowties became his insignia, was remembered for his “mischievous” smile, superior intellect, expansive vocabulary and dogged commitment to the county’s self sustainment as he was laid to rest in Hardin Memorial Park in Elizabethtown on the national holiday for the American worker. He died Saturday at his Elizabethtown home at the ago of 90.
A native of Roanoke, Thomas served as Hardin County clerk from 1962 to 1969 before leading county government as judge executive from 1970 to 1989, said County Clerk Kenny Tabb. Thomas is one of the longest serving judge-executives. Judge H.B. Fife held the office longest with 28 years in the position, according to Tabb.
The building on Public Square that houses Tabb’s office is named in Thomas’ honor, and he was a frequent reference point in all forms of local government for years after his retirement.
For all of his public service and charisma, Bell, Thomas’ friend and minister of Glendale Christian Church, said he remembered Thomas as someone who cherished his privacy.
“He was a paradox,” he said of Thomas, a World War II veteran who was buried with a gavel. “He marched to a different drummer” and didn’t mind if you knew it.
Bell said Thomas penned elaborate handwritten letters that could be uplifting or scathing depending on what the situation called for and never was afraid to defend his conservative philosophies, believing if more people adhered to his viewpoints America would have fewer problems.
Considering songs that would have been appropriate for Thomas’ funeral, Bell said Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” rang most true when describing his life. Not because he was selfish, Bell said, but rather because he carefully measured each decision and believed his actions taken on the community’s behalf were in its best interest.
“He loved you all as a family,” Bell said.
When he chastised those he loved, he said, it was not out of hatred or anger but because he wanted those around him to aspire toward greater heights.
“He challenged each of us to be better,” Bell said.
Bell called Thomas a trendsetter — whose innovations in government has created a lasting impact outside Hardin County — known for his fairness toward everyone
After leaving public office, Thomas remained involved in community organizations, including the Brown-Pusey House and Hardin County Historical Society, officials said. According to Tabb, he was “instrumental” in starting the Hardin County History Museum, which opened its doors in September 2003. Judge-Executive Harry Berry described him as tenacious.
Monday’s memorial service was regarded as a celebration, and there was more laughter than tears as Bell recounted Thomas’ quirks to those who knew him best, praising him as a gifted storyteller with a trademark chuckle.
One story Thomas popularized involved a former deputy sheriff who could not drive. After hailing a ride to work, the deputy gave his escort a speeding ticket, Bell recollected.
Those closest to him also were impressed by Thomas’ advanced use of the English language. Bell said Thomas proofread college papers as a hobby.
“He invited me to play Scrabble with him,” he said. “I never was that big of a sucker.”
As the service moved from the funeral home to the cemetery, Bell instructed those in attendance to keep Thomas alive through stories, recalling a section of Psalm 23.
“I think Babe would say, ‘the Lord is my shepherd, I haven’t wanted for anything,’” Bell said.
Marty Finley can be reached at 270-505-1762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.