A One-of-a-Kind Man
Charles Oscar Thomas—a one-of-a-kind man whose quick-wit and sense of humor have endeared him to many. He was a country boy who lived on a farm down a dirt road on the borderline of the Murvaul and the Snap Communities. His parents, Omar and Mellie Thomas reared their only child on land that has been in the family since 1870. They raised cotton and corn, but their mainstay was cattle. They attended the Six Mile Baptist Church until it dissolved for lack of participation, then went to First Baptist Church in Carthage where Charles has been a member for over 50 years. Growing up, Charles enjoyed working cattle with his father. He was active in FFA and 4H and showed cattle every year in the livestock show. After school each day Charles rode his horse to the neighbor’s house. “I rode to James and Jerry Morris’s house because they had a television before we did,” recalls Charles. “We’d watch old westerns on “Al’s Corral” every day.”
Charles’s first job was working for his uncle on Saturdays in a flower nursery pulling weeds and bagging burlap plants. He graduated from Carthage High School in 1963 and continued his schooling at Panola College. In the summers he worked at the Daniel Memorial Baptist Encampment in Gary, which was under the leadership of Reverend Earl Moore. He helped serve the meals, wash the dishes and work in the cantina. “When campers were not there, I would help Mr. Pete Minter and Mr. Fred Soape with repairs around the camp. It was quite an experience and many long hours, but I was glad to get a job in those days.” After Panola, Charles continued his education at Stephen F. Austin State University and worked in the summers laying a pipeline from Lake Murvaul to Carthage. “I worked out there with Rowland Duckworth and some other people staking right-of-way. It was hot work and made you want to go back to school!” He received a degree in Business with a minor in Economics and landed a job with General Electric Credit Corporation in Shreveport as a field rep. It was the perfect job for a single man—on the road with a company car, living in motels, all expenses paid. He was soon promoted to a position in Alexandria and then another promotion as Credit Manager in Monroe, Louisiana.
When a job as Office Manager for the City of Carthage became available, Charles jumped at the opportunity to move back to his hometown and be closer to his family and the farm he loved. He worked as City Secretary for City Manager Floyd Socia and was promoted to Assistant City Manager after only a year. Carson Joines, Mayor at the time, says, “I’ve been around a lot of city managers in my 42 years with the City, and Charles has done a lot more for our city than any other manager I’ve known. He made Carthage what it is. When they named part of the loop after him, he was really deserving.”
The first big project under Charles’s leadership was the addition of the City ballpark. Working with Jim Payne, the men were able to facilitate the acquisition of 60 acres of land with the City, the County, CISD, and Panola College joining together for the purchase. (The County later traded their portion for full control of the local airport.) The complex held four baseball fields and a concession stand. “When we built it, there was nothing there but a grown up field,” recollects Thomas. “We knew the loop would be there when we purchased the land, and when it came, it was perfect for the ballpark.”
Another project under the Thomas leadership was the construction of the Recycling Center, the largest facility of its kind in East Texas. “We were ahead of our time, so it didn’t work out, but when we built it, we did so with the idea that the building could easily be transformed for other uses.” The building was eventually leased to Carthage Cup Company for warehouse space and now houses the Carthage Civic Center, a multi-purpose facility used for community as well as commercial events. In 1986 the Resource Recovery Center was built as part of a grant to enable Tyson Foods to expand and add 200 employees to their work force. “We sold steam from the incinerator to Tyson, and it was a wonderful deal for many years, but like anything else, times change, so we sold it and now it’s an industry paying taxes in the community.”
The addition of the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, built during Thomas’s term as City Manager, has been a great tourist attraction for country music fans who come from around the world to see the tribute to Tex Ritter and Jim Reeves as well as other inductees in the museum. Along with being City Manager, Thomas also took on the responsibility of Main Street Manager. During his tenure, the Margie Neal Park was built on the north side of the square. “We wanted to improve the looks of downtown by developing a lot that had grown up and was in bad shape. We decided to honor Neal because we felt she had not gotten the proper recognition here in Carthage for being the first woman senator from Texas. That was probably one of the most pleasant projects because of the many local contributors involved.”
Through the years of Thomas’s leadership, he has worked on many boards, has been recognized for his outstanding leadership and vision and has received many accolades for his work. He has been named a Distinguished Alumnus at Carthage High School, Panola County Citizen of the Year, serves on the First State Bank Board of Directors, selected as President of the Northeast Texas Economic Developers Association, received the Texas City Management Association Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as serving as a board member, and in 2004 received the TXDOT Road Hand Award for his work on transportation projects including the I-69 project which will run from Canada to the Rio Grande Valley. A portion of the Carthage loop is named Charles Thomas Parkway in his honor. In 2003, heart bypass surgery was the mitigating factor in his decision to hand the reins over to Assistant City Manager, Brenda Samford. Not quite ready to “go to the house,” Thomas has worked part time the past several years coordinating the Carthage Economic Development Corporation and the Carthage Improvement Corporation, as well as lending his expertise in city management in an advisory capacity. Married for the past ten years to Linda Ryan Thomas of Longview, the couple spends their free time traveling and attending activities of the ten grandchildren.