Gerald "Red" Thomas , zoo elephant keeper in United States
Born 1936-11-25 in United States
dead 2009-09-26 in United States
Gerald D. Thomas was born Nov. 25, 1936, in Strawberry Point, Iowa, to Wesley Earl and Verle Fritz Thomas. He grew up in Iowa and joined the Marine Corps when he was 17.
While stationed in San Diego, he met his future wife, Carolyn Maggarell. They were married in November 1955. She died in 1985. Mr. Thomas married Bernadette Morillo in 1989.
Gerald “Red” Thomas had a way with animals. In his nearly 40 years with the San Diego Zoo, he worked with everything from aardvarks to zebras, but there was a special place in his Heart
While Joan Embery
became the public face and goodwill ambassador of the zoo, Mr. Thomas was with her from the beginning and played a key role behind the scenes in helping make the San Diego Zoo world famous.
“Joan was the glitz and Red was the glue,” said friend Ron Ringer, a senior keeper at the zoo. Mr. Thomas, a former Marine, had a quiet competence and grace under pressure. He didn’t have formal animal training but was good at doing things on the fly, Ringer said. “Red learned on the job and he was good at everything he did.”
After retiring from the zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park in 1999 for medical reasons, Mr. Thomas would occasionally visit the animals, especially the elephants, his daughter Nancy Murphy said.
Mr. Thomas died of pneumonia and congestive Heart
failure Sept. 26 at Kaiser Hospital in San Diego. He was 72. Mr. Thomas is survived by his wife of 19 years, Bernadette; son, Gary of Las Vegas; daughters, Nancy Murphy of Lemon Grove, Ellen Thomas of Luray, Va., and Barbara Smith of Lemon Grove; stepdaughters, Annie Morillo of Lakeside and Kasey Edwards of Portland, Ore.; brother, Montey Thomas of Waterloo, Iowa, sister, Anita Poor of Fayette, Iowa; 15 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Mr. Thomas helped start the American Association of Zoo Keepers and the Elephant Managers Association. At a 1987 convention of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, Mr. Thomas and six others who founded the Group
were honored for their work. The organization, which provides mentors, training and information exchanges, eventually grew to more than 2,000 members.