Although his official title was Gahanna Lincoln High School campus supervisor, 17-year district employee Gary Thomas is being remembered more as a mentor who inspired students every day.
Thomas, 56, died Sept. 2 of natural causes, his wife, Allison Palmer, said.
Gahanna Lincoln High School principal Jessica Slocum said the entire school is feeling the loss of Thomas, who was a loved and respected member of the school community.>> Gary Thomas "Mr. Thomas" Memorial Page <<
“Mr. Gary Thomas, one of the first people to greet our students and visitors every day, was a confident and supportive leader who cared very deeply about the success and well-being of each student and staff member,” she said. “In a day when school security is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, many felt reassured knowing Mr. Thomas was a reliable fixture at our front desk.”
In reality, Slocum said, Thomas did much more for students than keep them safe.
“He expected our students to show respect for others and more importantly show respect for themselves,” she said. “Our students responded to Mr. Thomas and upped their game, knowing he cared. Mr. Thomas’ compassion and dedication to our students will be profoundly missed at Gahanna Lincoln High School.”
Keith Wilson, a teacher and coach at the school, said Thomas called him his “big brother.”
He said they both had encouraged students to strive to be the best they can be.
“He was probably closest to kids who were at-risk as far as having problems at home, which led to problems at school,” Wilson said. “He got more involved with those students.”
He said the two had plans for a Labor Day cookout.
“I’ve had the experience of my parents dying,” Wilson said. “I was prepared because they were both ill. To talk to someone one day who’s healthy and laughing and joking, and the next day is gone, it’s hard.”
“For me, our relationship was different. I was the older guy. He looked up to me for guidance,” he said.
Wilson said they weren’t just colleagues; they were like family.
Like any family, though, he said, they didn’t always see eye to eye, especially when it came to the team “up north,” also known as the Michigan Wolverines.
“He has a lot of paraphernalia in his basement,” Wilson said. “I’d come over and throw it on the floor. He loved the team ‘up north.’ ”
But in seriousness, Wilson said, the message Thomas would want students to remember is to be respectful of themselves and others and to know that nothing is impossible.
“Shoot for the sky,” Wilson said. “That’s the message every day of the week.”
On a memorial page on Facebook, Shantisha Turner wrote that Thomas was a mentor to her.
“Thank you, Mr. Thomas, for everything you brought to GLHS,” she wrote. “You were a mentor to me and always a man of your word, even if it was throwing me into after school detention for going out to lunch with the juniors when I should’ve been in the lunch room as a sophomore…”
District Superintendent Steve Barrett said Thomas had the opportunity to work with many students and was beloved and respected.
“Mr. Thomas was an excellent campus supervisor who cared deeply about the success and well-being of each and every one of our students,” he said. “We extend our sincere sympathies to his family during this difficult time.”
Palmer said she wants people to know Thomas was accepting, kind and loving to people.
“He believed in every single student at Gahanna Lincoln High School,” she said. “He believed they all could do amazing things no matter where they came from. If they had behavioral challenges or anything else, he wanted to help them be their best selves.”
Palmer said her husband loved his family, reading, traveling and learning about different cultures and food.
She said their marriage was the second for both of them.
“Today (Sept. 6) is our wedding anniversary,” she said. “I think we brought very different things to each other. We completed each other in ways we didn’t even know we needed.”
Wilson said a student-organized candlelight vigil is planned at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, at Woodside Green Park, 213 Camrose Court, in Gahanna.
Visitation will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, at Schoedinger Funeral Home Northeast Chapel, 1051 E. Johnstown Road, Gahanna.
Visitation also will be held from 10 to 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 10, prior to a service at 11 a.m. at First Congregational United Church of Christ, 444 E. Broad St., in Columbus, next to the Columbus Museum of Art.
“Because each of us mourns differently, our focus will be on supporting each other during the grieving process,” Barrett said. “Teachers, school counselors and administrators are committed to helping students in any way that we can.”