Arthur W. Thomas Jr., 74, community relations director of SEPTA

Posted: August 02, 2013

ARTHUR W. THOMAS Jr. had a special bond with young people. His words of wisdom and insightful advice had a major impact on a number of lives.

Take his daughter, Wendy Marie, for example. Their deep conversations about the earth, the need to protect and nurture the environment, led her to choose a career as a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

His children, friends of his children and members of the swim team he ran at the former Marcus Foster pool in Nicetown could attest to the influence of this man who was uniquely attuned to the hopes and dreams of youth.

Since his death July 25, his wife, the former Jernice Jackson, said she has been receiving numerous messages from the people her husband influenced.

"They tell me, 'Your husband changed my life,' " she said. "He had an impact on so many people."

Art Thomas died of kidney and heart disease at age 74. He lived in Mount Airy.

He was the son of Arthur W. Thomas Sr., the first black president of the Philadelphia Board of Education, who served on the board from 1972 to 1984 during tumultuous times, marked by labor strife and the usual financial crises.

"He had a calm personality," Jernice said of her husband. "He was a good listener. His compassionate character, dedicated heart and loving personality allowed him to be so many things to so many people."

Oddly, Art held the same job at SEPTA as his father - director of community relations. He also worked for the late City Councilmen Joseph Coleman and David Cohen, handling constituent concerns and attending community meetings.

He was director of supportive services for the Manpower Planning Council and a sales representative for American Can Co. and Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co.

He was vice president of the Philadelphia Swimming Advisory Council and ran a swim team through the city Department of Recreation that produced a number of Philadelphia movers and shakers.

He was a history buff and could dazzle friends and family with his extensive knowledge of the past and its influence on the present.

Art had some serious health issues over the years. He developed thrombosis, a blood clot, in his leg that caused severe and prolonged pain. Five years ago, kidney problems damaged his heart and he was on dialysis.

However, his wife said he never let pain interfere with his life, the fulfillment of his careers and his relations with others.

Art was born in Philadelphia. His mother was Emma Louise Thomas. He graduated from Germantown High School in 1957 and attended Penn State for two years.

He married Jernice "Jeri" Jackson on Jan. 21, 1965. In addition to their daughter, they had two sons, Roderick David, a librarian/educator at Germantown Academy, and Craig Michael, an orthopedic surgeon.

He also is survived by two grandchildren.

Services: 11 a.m. tomorrow at Germantown Christian Assembly, 610 E. Mount Pleasant Ave. Friends may call at 8 a.m. Burial will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.

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