Noted funeral director Thomas blended grief work, whimsy
Published: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 4:37 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 4:37 p.m.
Jon Thomas could be serious in guiding bereaved families during his 50 years as funeral director and owner of funeral homes and cemeteries.
He also could be silly as MT Noggin the clown, entertaining at children’s birthday parties and nursing homes.
In a life spanning 74 years, he also served as a state legislator, consulted funeral businesses throughout the U.S. and Canada and helped community organizations wherever he lived.
Thomas died June 12 after being diagnosed in January with acute myeloid leukemia, said his wife, Pat.
Since 2004, Jon and Pat Thomas have owned Forest Meadows Funeral Homes and Cemeteries, Moring Funeral Home in Melrose, Evans-Carter Funeral Home in High Springs and A-Direct Cremations in Gainesville and Summerfield.
Thomas became a licensed funeral director in 1959.
During a 2012 interview with The Sun, he said he was drawn to the business after getting a job as a teenager at a Fort Lauderdale funeral home washing cars, cutting grass and polishing brass.
“I saw how the families really appreciated the funeral director,” he said. “I thought, in this terrible situation of death, to be able to help people across this bridge to after death and to have people really care about you for what you’ve done for them, I thought was a really cool thing. That’s how I really got into it, because I’m a people person.”
In 1964, at age 25, he opened his first business with a partner, Jordan-Thomas Funeral Homes in Fort Lauderdale. He went on to open or buy funeral homes and cemeteries in Panama City, Hollywood, Tallahassee and Crawfordville.
“He was very innovative in his approach to serving families and providing them with personalized attention and ensuring them that all of his business associates and employees did exactly the same thing,” said Devin Russo, general manager of Forest Meadows who has worked with Thomas off and on for more than 40 years.
“It was almost a lifelong work that he was able to really assist people in going through the event of having a loss and ensuring they’re given the proper guidance to help them at a very sad time,” Russo said.
Thomas also consulted with funeral businesses, helping with acquisitions and management.
“Jon was a great mentor, teacher and probably did more to change the death care industry in Florida than anyone else,” Douglas Kinzer, former president of the Star of David Cemetery and Funeral Home in Broward County, wrote in the online condolences at Forest Meadows’ website.
“Within our industry he was truly a visionary,” Russo said. “He saw changes occurring many years before they actually developed.”
In the 1970s, he served two two-year terms in the Florida House and one in the state Senate as a Republican from Fort Lauderdale.
Three times he was named legislator of the year by the Florida Association for Retarded Children for work to increase funding for services to the mentally impaired. He also received an award from the National Wildlife Federation for work to restore the Kissimmee River.
After Pat Thomas hired a clown for her husband’s mother’s birthday party in 1985, she said he decided to become a clown. Since he was busy during the week, she said he talked her into going to clown school and teaching him on the weekends. His license plate said “MT Noggin.”
“Jon loved to have a good time, and he had a great sense of humor,” she said.
Thomas came to Gainesville for a liver transplant at UF Health Shands Hospital. Bob Saunders, a colleague in the Florida Senate, visited him and persuaded him to buy his funeral home and move to Gainesville in 2004.
Among his community activities, Thomas served as vice president of the Fisher House, a place for patients of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and their families to stay, and served on the advisory committee for Haven Hospice.
In 2012, he was awarded the Ethics in Business Award by the Rotary Club of Gainesville.
Pat said their three children — Timothy James Thomas, Hollee Ann Bollman and Jon Charles Thomas II — are making a difference in the world.
“That’s probably what I consider Jon’s greatest legacy — that and the six grandchildren who loved their Papa.”
The funeral service is 2 p.m. Sunday at Trinity United Methodist Church, 4000 NW 53rd Ave. Visitation is 5-7 p.m. Saturday at Forest Meadows, 725 NW 23rd Ave.