Curtis Thomas, a longtime employee of Philadelphia Gas Works, an independent electrical contractor and onetime Tuskegee Airman, died Thursday at age 100. He was living in the Dresher Hill rehabilitation center in Dresher, Pa., but had lived most of his life in Germantown, where he was a prominent community figure.
In fact, he was called the "mayor of Musgrave Street" because of his many activities for community betterment, from leading cleanup projects in the 6700 block, to establishing a neighborhood watch program, finding employment for young people, "and successfully resolving acts of domestic and street violence," his family said in a tribute.
No politician running for office would think of going into Germantown to solicit votes without first checking in with Curtis. And Curtis was assiduous in turning out the vote every election day.
"He would not allow people not to vote," his son said. "He would knock on doors and get people out to the polls."
For Curtis Thomas, his skills as an electrician often were for the benefit on the community. As an independent contractor, he didn't hesitate to go out in the middle of the night to help someone with an electrical problem. And his customers couldn't always pay him.
"He enjoyed being able to take a bad situation and make it better," his son said.
When his church, Jones Tabernacle African Methodist Episcopal, wanted to put up Christmas lights one year, Curtis was there. In fact, he lit the whole neighborhood for Christmas without thought of being paid, often using his own money for expenses.
Curtis was an amazing historian, who seemed to know everything about every part of the country. Once on a car trip to New York, he regaled his family with a complete history of the Holland Tunnel as they passed through it.
He was a close friend of the late Dr. Eddie L. Clark Jr., a family physician who still made house calls. When Dr. Clark said he wanted to build a medical center to honor his mother, Curtis volunteered to do the electrical work on the Ida B. Clark Medical Center.
His son, a Democrat who has represented the 181st legislative district since 1989, said his father made him go to school every day without fail.
"He wanted me to be an electrician," his son said. "I told him he didn't have to worry about me going to school, because I did not want to be an electrician."
Curtis was born in Stewart County, Ga., the oldest of the five children of Charlie Mae Williams and Arthur Thomas. His father worked in the cotton fields and Curtis had to pitch in and help.
His education was interrupted when he joined the Army to help support his family. He trained as a navigator with the famed Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American contingent out of Tuskegee, Ala.
He married the late Hattie Mae Jackson, of Albany, Ga., and they moved to Philadelphia. He studied electrical work at local technical schools.
His wife died in 1994, and he later married Helen Williams-Thomas. As a 52-year member of Jones Tabernacle AME Church, he was a lay minister and trustee. He also led the Cub Scout troop.
Despite many years suffering from pulmonary ailments as a result of asbestos exposure at the Gas Works, he remained active until a few years ago.
Curtis and his wife sometimes had friendly arguments of a religious nature because she was a determined Baptist, and he was African Methodist Episcopal. His son said he joined the AME denomination because it supported schools.
Curtis was also a Mason.
Besides his wife and son, he is survived by a daughter, Geraldine Thomas; a sister, Lucille Hardnett; 15 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Services: 11 a.m. tomorrow at Jones Tabernacle AME Church, 2021 W. Diamond St. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Masonic services will begin at 10:30 a.m. Burial will be in Ivy Hill Cemetery.