Originally published Mammoth Times 2010
As I have often said, it was my great good fortune the day I walked into the Carroll Thomas Art Gallery in Big Pine, California. A tall, robust gentleman with full-head of silver hair greeted us. He was tall and handsome. His voice was strong and sure. This was Carroll Thomas. It was early May 1996 and Carroll had just celebrated his 96th birthday.
The group, members of the Outdoor Writers Association of California, was on a post-press trip after the fall conference in Bishop. All of us had seen a thing or two in our lives but I will be the first to say I was stunned. Carroll looked 80, maybe a couple of years more, but 96? No way! He shared stories of his life, his travels, and his art. His memory was sharp; probably more so than most people I knew a third his age. I was enchanted. And I knew that it would not be the last time we would meet.
I also spent time with Helen Michaels, his life and business partner. She carefully tended to the day-to-day details of running the gallery while Carroll painted. They were a good match. I remarked about a 100th birthday party – four years off – and said, “Put me on the invitation list. I will be there!” Four years later, May 2010, I celebrated with Carroll and his family and friends. I was then included in the latter. It was a happy day and Carroll was in his glory.
Carroll’s health declined over the past two years, but he was always ready to share a story or two with visitors. Helen carefully tended to his every need and continued to run the gallery. Gratefully, three stories about Carroll were published 2010 – Inyo County Register, Sierra Heritage, and Mammoth Times – which brought new admirers and customers to the gallery. The “Pièce de résistance” in 2010 was Carroll being nominated and then chosen as OWAC’s Californian of the Year. It was a very good year.
Carroll’s son and daughter-in-law, Alan and Donna Thomas, traveled to Visalia to accept the award on Saturday evening, September 11, 2010. By then, Carroll was already in a care facility in Bishop, but to quote Alan, “My dad is holding on with both hands until we get to Bishop with this award!” No truer words were spoken. Two days later, Carroll celebrated with Helen, Alan and Donna enjoying a little cake and punch.
At the Saturday awards ceremony we viewed a video of Carroll made in July. I asked what it meant to him to be chosen as OWAC’s Californian of the Year and he said, “Mind boggling. I never really expected any such experience. For other people to realize what I have done and be honored by it…why it’s a good way to end a life.”
Helen called me to say that Carroll had passed away Wednesday night, September 15th.