David Williams Thomas
Written by John Agan, Class of 1976
Thursday, 22 May 2008
Many of us have a somewhat negative view of those involved in the political arena. It often seems that the term public servant is obsolete and we stereotype politicians as almost an undesirable element in our society.
However, some individuals that hold public office defy the stereotype and upon examination we find the record of their lives is a fascinating departure from the norm. Todays Echo of the Past is a biography of one of the most unique men to fill the post of mayor in Mindens past, David William Thomas.
David Thomas was born on August 12, 1876, in Cardiff, Wales. His parents were David and Sarah Thomas.
The Thomas family immigrated to the United States in 1883, when David was seven and settled in Scranton, Pennsylvania. David received his primary education in Scranton, and although we have no record of his achievements there, he must have been an outstanding student.
Upon finishing school in Scranton, David was admitted to Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where he received a classical Ivy League education.
After finishing Cornell in the late 1890s, Thomas was hired to be a high school teacher and later a principal in the unlikely spot of Lake Charles, Louisiana. Lake Charles was a long way and extremely different from Wales, Pennsylvania, of the Lake Country of New York, but Thomas seemed to adapt. He would make Louisiana his home for the remainder of his life.
After a few years in Lake Charles, a new job opportunity emerged at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. David Thomas was hired as a Professor of Latin, Greek and Journalism at LSU. Of course this was in the era before the modern campus of LSU, when the school was located on what today is the site of the Louisiana State Capitol.
While Thomas was a professor at LSU, several Minden residents were students at the school, including future Judge H. C. Drew.
While we have no proof that the two knew each other at that time, it is interesting to note the H. C. Drews son, R. Harmon Drew, was a pallbearer at David Thomas funeral.
A Young Man
Thomas was not only a Professor during his stay at LSU, but also a student.
He attended classes at the law school while on the faculty, and graduated in 1909 with a L.L.B., but did not begin practicing law. Thomas remained in his teaching position at LSU for several more years.
In the early 1920s, he turned to one of his teaching fields, journalism, for his next career move. Thomas became Publisher of the Baton Rouge News, a small daily paper that was one of the forerunners of the modern Baton Rouge Morning Advocate.
After the News was absorbed in the Advocate, Thomas remained in the newspaper business, working as Editor of a weekly newspaper in Hammond. He was working in Hammond in 1923, when he was offered a staff position with the new Minden Tribune in Minden.
So this man who would leave a lasting impact on many areas of our citys life, was nearly 50 years old before he ever came to Minden.
In 1925, Thomas returned to the halls of academia, accepting a position as Professor of Journalism at Louisiana Tech in Ruston. It was during his stay at Tech that he became a published poet as several of his works were included in regional and national literary anthologies. Thomas remained on the faculty at Tech for several years, spending the last few as a part-time instructor.
He returned here to write for the Minden Tribune in 1927 and 1928, before it merged with the Webster Signal and became the Signal-Tribune. After the merger of the two papers, Thomas left Minden to accept a position as Professor of Journalism at the University of Arkansas.
During his stays away from Minden he was a regular correspondent with the citizens of Minden through letters to the editor of the local papers. He remained in the teaching position at Fayetteville for a few years before returning again to Minden in about 1934. This move to Minden was permanent, he would spend the remainder of his life as a resident of our community.
For the first time since earning a law degree in 1909, Thomas began the practice of law after moving back to Minden in the mid 1930s.
He established a partnership with R. F. Langston, which endured until Langstons death. After his partner died, Thomas then began an individual practice he continued for the rest of his life.
In 1936, at the age of 59, Thomas, after years of writing about public officials, decided to attempt to win election to public office. He filed for the position of Mayor of Minden and was elected in 1936. In those days of two-year terms, he was reelected to a second term in 1938.
Thomas centered his efforts as Mayor on public improvements, starting an intensive paving program of all the major streets in Minden.
It was during his term that the old Minden Community House was built in Victory Park, following Thomas own design. Apparently, he was also an amateur architect. During Thomas second term, controversy arose over the sale of alcoholic beverages in Minden. Minden had become wet with the end of national prohibition in 1933, and during the fall of 1938, a local option election was held to decide if sales of alcoholic beverages in Minden would remain legal. The town was voted dry effective January 1, 1939.
The controversy apparently caused a loss of support for Thomas, as he came in third place in his bid for election to a third term in January 1940.
After leaving the office of mayor, Thomas remained active in local Democratic Party politics. He also served as the Webster Parish attorney for the inheritance collector from 1948 until his death.
He is also remembered fondly by many high school graduates for presenting Bibles to the students upon their graduation. Thomas also continued his private practice of law until his death, on Tuesday, August 1, 1961. David Thomas is buried in the Minden Cemetery.
Although his actual service in public office only included 4 of his nearly 85 years on earth, by definition, politician is one label that could be attached to David William Thomas.
It is just rare to find a politician who could also be labeled as a scholar of ancient languages, a journalist, a poet, an amateur architect, and a encourager of the youth of the community.
All of these roles were part of the life a David Thomas, and he has left a positive Echo of Our Past in Mindens history.
John Agan is a local historian, an Instructor at Bossier Parish Community College, and a published author. His column appears Fridays in the Minden Press-Herald.
Re: David William Thomas
I was so glad to read about David Thomas. He was such a sweet man and a favorite of mine. Apparently he and my father were good friends, as I often found them visiting together at the bank, and David used to drop by the house occasionally. Thanks to you and John Agan for the remembrance.
Judy Gleason Claassen, Class of 1954
Minden Herald, Thursday, August 4, 1961
Former Minden Mayor, Attorney Dies Tuesday
Funeral services for David William Thomas, 84, prominent Minden attorney and former mayor,
were held at 2 p.m. yesterday at Emmanuel Baptist Church with the Rev. T. W. Leachman, officiating.
Thomas, who served as mayor of Minden from 1936-1940, died at 12:25 p.m. Tuesday at Minden
Burial was in the Minden Cemetery under the direction of Green-Kleinegger Funeral Home.
Pallbearers were John David Sr., H. M. Turner, R. Harmon Drew, Cecil P. Campbell, Harry E.
McInnis and John B. Benton.
Survivors include 3 daughters, Mrs. Gwendolyn Neitzel of Marksville, Mrs. Sarah Fasce of
Baton Rouge, and Mrs. Terry Whipple of Baton Rouge; one son, David W. Thomas, Jr. of
West Plaines, ILL; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.