Mike Thomas. What can I say? If you are anything to do with the Virginia GOP, or have been in the past 30+ years, you know the name.
Mike has been a friend to many over the decades and is best known through his association with Republican politics. His humble leadership and willingness to turn the spotlight of appreciation on others has been on display throughout his tenure … including changes in leadership when RPV Chairs have left before their terms expired, and Mike stepped in to fill the void. But every time, when asked to become the permanent RPV Chair, he turned down the requests. He was the one in the background, never seeking the limelight.
In total, he has spent 24 years as First Vice Chair, and 13 before that as a member of State Central. That doesn’t include all the other leadership positions he took on.
Mike has spent countless hours since his days as Chairman of the University of Richmond Young Republicans working with elected officials, candidates, and grassroots leaders who made up the Virginia Republican Party. His dedication is unmatched; his knowledge of Robert’s Rules and the Party Plan and various bylaws and rules and regulations is beyond impressive; his patience even more so. Mike Thomas is a walking, talking encyclopedia of the Virginia GOP.
Now he wants to tap into the history of the party and document the journeys of those who blazed trails from the days when Republicans first cracked the Democratic stronghold of leadership in the Commonwealth. People like Polly Campbell in Page County who was secretary of the State Central Committee during those transitional years and beyond … Trixie Averill in Roanoke County who worked the 6th and 9th Districts for numerous statewide Republican candidates … Don Huffman of Roanoke whose name is attached to the RPV Advance …
… the story and history of the Advance and how it was started and why it’s called “Advance” … Sen. Emmett Hanger who won against a Democratic senator and how he brought the new “Advance” to Augusta County … why Dick Obenshain’s name is on RPV’s Richmond headquarters … how a young George Allen overcame being redistricted out of his Charlottesville area congressional seat to become Governor of Virginia … and all the other history that many in today’s Republican Party of Virginia do not know.
At the top of that list should be Mike Thomas himself. In typical Mike style, he will most likely push aside his own name but that’s okay … I’ve already documented some of his story and will continue to do so.
This is a project he has been interested in pursuing for a while but his duties at RPV were non-stop and limited the time he had available for doing anything other than, in recent years, mediating between warring factions in the party. Now is the time.
I’ve written in the past about my gratitude for Mike’s leadership skills and friendship. A fond memory took place in 2006 when U.S. Senator George Allen was driving from Harrisonburg to the Homestead for a debate, and his journey traveling in Augusta County took him through Pastures District west of Staunton. As Pastures Magisterial District Chair, I started calling Republicans along the route to gain permission to put up Allen yard signs to show our support for Senator Allen. That morning I started at one end of the district and worked my way west putting out signs.
Probably about mid-day I was in Buffalo Gap at a house along Rt. 42, leaning over pushing a yard sign into the ground, when a car turned into the driveway. Looking up and expecting to see the homeowners, it was an unfamiliar car, and out stepped Mike Thomas who was part of Sen. Allen’s team. He had seen the signs along the way (he was driving ahead of the Senator) and when he saw me pushing one into the ground, he stopped to thank me.
Now, I’ve been around plenty of higher-ups who would have blown right past a volunteer putting out a yard sign. What impressed me about Mike doing that — and I’ve never forgotten it — was that he made the effort to make sure and stop and express his gratitude. I was grateful and didn’t totally understand the gravity of it all until later … because I had more signs to put up between Buffalo Gap and Goshen which was where my district ended, and there was no time to dally. After Mike got back in his car and pulled out heading to the Homestead, I quickly jumped in my own car and sped west to get those signs up before George Allen, who was in another vehicle not far behind Mike, drove past.
That, and more events over the years, put Mike Thomas in my personal political hall of fame (and there are but a handful of politicos in that group).
Here is Mike’s letter announcing that he will not run for reelection as RPV First Vice Chairman. He will be missed but, as he said, he is not retiring and will be available for all to tap into his well of knowledge and experience. Thank you, Mike, for … everything. See you on the front lines!
Before getting into the purpose of my letter, let me first congratulate our new State Chair, Rich Anderson, on his election last weekend. As every previous State Chair will tell you, it is not a job for the faint of heart, with a commitment of time akin to that of running for statewide public office. However, no matter how much time Rich devotes to the job, he cannot hope for our party to be successful without the help and commitment of every Republican leader in Virginia, and especially that of thousands of grassroots volunteers and activists throughout the Commonwealth. I hope each of us will do our part.
I would also like to extend a public thanks to Jack Wilson for nearly three decades of service to the Republican Party. The thousands upon thousands of hours he has given to recruiting, raising money for and electing candidates here in Chesterfield, in the Fourth District and statewide has benefited our cause in so many ways. To step into the role of RPV Chair, as Jack did nearly two years ago, knowing the daunting task ahead in the face of challenging trends in Virginia, is something that few, if any of us would have done. Thank you, Jack, for stepping forward at a crucial time for conservatives in Virginia.
The main purpose for my letter, though, is to express gratitude. It has been an honor to serve as First Vice Chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia for the last 24 years, alongside (now) 10 State Chairs. And, that came after 13 years of being a member of the State Central Committee as State CR Chair, State YR Chair and as a District committee member.
It was never my intention to serve as First Vice Chair for more than 8 years. Yet, there always seemed to be a compelling reason to help just four more years. This is the time, though, for someone else to take on this role.
I am grateful to my Lord for turning my heart to Him over 30 years ago. I have walked imperfectly every day since, but better each year by His grace. You know, some people say that you have to have a “thick skin” to get anything done in politics. I disagree. I believe that it takes a forgiving heart, something possible because we ourselves were first forgiven.
I want to thank you, and hundreds of others, for all you have done to help me in serving the party. For many, that has been through your support, encouragement, ideas, prodding and, yes, correction.
For others, especially when it was done with collegiality and civility, your opposition to some of the positions or ideas I have advocated has challenged me to consider your point of view, to listen and many times to work for a better solution. Thank you for this.
While I am not “retiring”, and while you should always feel free to call if you need help or advice, I do intend to focus my time as an activist in two areas: (1) electing a Republican Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General in 2021, and (2) launching a “living history” project to capture on audio/video and in written form the perspectives the women and men on whose shoulders we stand, while they are still with us. This is not primarily for the purpose of chronicling who they are and what they did, but more importantly to capture their perspective on how Virginia Republicans were once able to vigorously disagree on candidates to be nominated, issues of public policy and, yes, even methods of nomination, yet keep those disagreements civil, respectful and secondary to rallying around our eventual nominees or shared goals. If you are interested in helping, please let me know.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. Our party has rallied from long periods of defeat before. We can do so again, if we choose to set aside that which is insignificant, listen – truly listen – to fellow Republicans, use the minds that God gave us to be discerning, and commit to common goals.
That is my commitment. I hope it will be yours also.
See also A Letter of Thanks to RPV’s Mike Thomas.
The cover photo is Mike at son Alec Thomas’ wedding in August 2018. Below are just a few others I’ve taken over the years….
At Burgers With Bill Bolling, June 2017. Richmond.
With Martin Brown.
Photos by Lynn R. Mitchell