Robert McGill Thomas Jr.


Died January 6, 2000

College: Davenport

Widow: Mrs. Joan Thomas
243 W End Avenue Apartment 1012
New York, NY 10023-3670

Children: David, 1964; Andrew, 1964

Bob was born and grew up in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Joining The New York Times as a copyboy in 1959, he went on to work in many of the paper’s different departments over his lifetime. He was a police reporter, rewrite man, society news reporter (when that department was known as the women’s page) and sportswriter before turning to obituaries in 1995, the year the Times proposed him for a Pulitzer Prize. The nomination read: “Every week, readers write to The New York Times to say they were moved to tears or laughter by an obituary of someone they hadn’t known until that morning’s paper. Invariably, the obituary is the work of Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., who hadn’t known the subject either, until the assignment landed on his desk a few hours before deadline.”

In his bylines, Bob used the “McG” (for McGill) form of his middle initial. That explains why among his many devoted fans, his pieces were known simply as McGs. In fact, a book was published in 2001 (the year after he died) entitled: 52 McGs: The Best Obituaries from Legendary New York Times Writer Robert McG. Thomas, Jr. Indeed, when my sons and I cleaned out his voluminous files (over 40 years worth) at the Times we came across wonderful letters from many grateful readers who had revered his work. And the notes kept coming after his own obituary was published in the Times.

At Yale Bob worked on the Yale Daily News before leaving in his sophomore year, as a result, he said, of his decision to major in New York rather than anything academic. I met him there, a blind date that worked! We married in 1962, our two sons were born in 1964. We spent our vacations in Shelbyville at his family home and in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, my family home. Sometime in the 1980’s he became active in Yale alumni activities, helping in phone-a-thons at the Yale Club, acting as a class representative at various campus meetings, and his favorite: writing the class notes for the Alumni Magazine.

Bob loved a good party, and especially enjoyed entertaining friends in Shelbyville on his two annual visits (for the Walking Horse Show in August and for our Christmas vacation). And in New York, if you could last into the wee hours of a Thomas night, when it was over, by the dawn’s early light (and on occasion it was not ended even then) chances were you had met some folks you never thought you would meet and been to a few places that you never knew were there.

Bob died on January 6, 2000. We figured that, since it was the Feast of the Epiphany, a joyous, festive event in the Christian calendar, he was segueing from one big party to another, ready to take on the new millennium without us.

—by Joan Thomas