Jeffrey Burke Thomas, 72, of Richmond, Virginia, crossed the bar, as the sailors say, on Wednesday, November 17, 2021. He was the son of the late George and Mimi Thomas; and was predeceased by Jana, his wife of 35 years. He is survived by his daughter, Catherine; son-in-law, Andrew; and granddaughter, Saoirse; his son, Burke; brother, George and wife, Anara; nephews, George and Daniel; cousins, Thia, Christie and Laurie and their children, Becket, Paul, Kendra, Micah, Jenny, Reaghan and Towner; and his brothers-and-sisters-in-law Ed, Francey, Ellie, Rusty, Ellen, Walter; and nieces and nephews Ren, Jesse, Emily, Jenny, Brett, Zach, Gene, Zoe, Bradley, Lindsey, Blake, Taylor, Emily, Patrick, Adelaide, Pete and Will.
Jeff was born in New York City on August 29, 1949 and left after six weeks to live with his parents in South America. George spent his career establishing international operations for A.H. Robins Pharmaceutical Company, now part of Pfizer, as Mimi founded local Christian Science reading rooms. Jeff attended schools in Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, where his headmaster would ring a bell at noon to signal the students to switch from Spanish to English. He moved to the United States at age 13 to attend Williston Academy in Massachusetts and graduated as class president. He attended Wesleyan University, where he again served as senior class president, as well as goalie on the varsity hockey team, followed by graduate studies at the Darden School at the University of Virginia. He delighted in putting bawdy stories in the middle of his papers when he believed his professors were not paying attention. His game was never discovered.
He worked as an investment banker for Wheat First Securities (Wachovia) before owning a number of successful small businesses, ranging from Virginia Controls to A-1 Security to an ornamental ironmaker in Winchester, providing stable employment for dozens of families. After retirement, he sought to give back through public service as a basketball coach at St. Catherine’s School, Saint Gertrude, Jamestown High and St. Edward Epiphany. He co-authored The Complete Guide to Coaching Girls’ Basketball with Hall of Fame UNC coach, Sylvia Hatchell. He pursued his dual passions for boating and photography by publishing feature articles and cover photographs for Sailing and Cruising World. Later, he tried his hand at writing screenplays, winning multiple competitions including Best First Screenplay at the Richmond International Film Festival. He also dedicated his time and skills as a writer to tutoring high school students on their college admissions essays.
Jeff had a unique love of wooden boats and enjoyed sailing with sea dogs, Alex, Bill, Chris, Clinton, George, Mike and Paul and sea pups, Matt, Mary Vaughn and Katie. He was schooled in celestial navigation and could predict the weather by reading the clouds. He also had a special place in his heart for Kit Kats, Krispy Kreme, Goombay Smashes and sea shanties.
He traveled with his wife on eight medical and humanitarian mission trips to Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Peru. He served as interpreter and sponsored the education of several Dominican medical students.
Jeff could play any instrument he picked up and speak a new language in a month. He won every board game and was an especially intuitive chess player. He remained an avid UVA basketball fan during the brief time between Ralph Sampson and Tony Bennett, always watching games in the same pair of lucky shorts that were validated after 30 short years. He was wildly funny, warm, generous, kind, fair-minded and eternally optimistic. He endeavored to make everyone he met feel special. He stood faithfully by his beloved wife, Jana during many years of her difficult illness. As his own health waned, he had the great privilege of a wonderful travel companion and friend (Judy), the care of a fantastic team of nurses (Abby, Whitney and Crystal) and the support and love of many, many friends and family members. Despite his physical limitations, he spent the last year of his life writing a children’s book (The A to Z Guide to Boating) dedicated to his granddaughter, Saoirse.
A funeral celebration for Captain Jeff will be held outdoors in the spring. Donations may be made to Church Hill Activities and Tutoring (CHAT).