By Andrew Harris, 11/14/21
My memories of Tommy are likely similar to most people who remember Wellsville 25 years ago: He was always happy, working hard, chattering and laughing. Because Wellsville is a very white place, and being had a heavy accent, Tommy was a rare bird in Wellsville. His personality was so unique and welcoming and his smile was reflective of that.
Tommy’s daughter, Renu Thomas, agreed to answer some questions about Tommy and wanted the entire community to know that, “My dad is smiling down so happy to be celebrated in his “hometown.”
Can you tell us a little about Tommy’s life in India? Did he grow up in the city or country?
Tommy was born in a small town in Kerala, India which is in the southwest corner of India. He was the middle son of three boys. He was very proud of explaining to people that it was a place of religious harmony with Christianity tracing back to AD 52 when St. Thomas the Apostle visited. We are hence Indian Orthodox and that is why our last name is Thomas and you can tell someone is from Kerala because their last names are usually Apostle names.
Why did Tommy and family come to Wellsville?
The classic American immigrant story – Tommy came here to better his family. His older brother was one of the early Indian immigrants to the US in 1957 when he came over for his PHD. Tommy followed in his footsteps and wanted to make sure his children were able to get a great education and better themselves. He found Wellsville to be that idyllic place to live the American dream for his family – a small town with friendly people and a great school system.
Being the griddle man at the Texas Hot is almost like being on a big screen TV, thousands of people see your face every week. Did he enjoy that role as much as it seemed?
He absolutely did. He loved people – that smile was genuine.
Was Tommy aware that he was breaking down barriers while doing that job?
I don’t think he did. He was being himself and he saw people accepting him and his family as the Thomas family – nothing different. I think that is why he chose to stay in Wellsville to raise us.
Besides working at the TH, what did Tommy love to do in Wellsville on his days off?
He loved gardening. Anyone who remembers the house on Brooklyn Ave would remember the big garden. He loved barbecuing and just enjoying time with family and friends. He was also the one on the block during the winter storms clearing everyone’s sidewalks using his snowblower.
After retiring and moving to Texas, who did Tommy keep in touch with in Wellsville?
He kept in touch with many friends and neighbors. They kept in touch via phone calls, Xmas cards, visits back to Wellsville and visitors from Wellsville to Texas. I see him smiling down from heaven now with some of the folks who used to gather at the Texas Hot catching up!
His obituary explains that he battled Parkinson’s Disease, which seems to impact more and more people. Can you pass along any wisdom or experience from that affliction which would be useful to those dealing with that diagnosis now?
It took almost three years for us to get the diagnosis of Parkinson’s. Be your own or your loved one’s advocate.
This is from his grandchildren Ashley and Joseph(pictured below on visit to Wellsville):
He loved to spend time with his family, including his two grandchildren. He was always present for their big life events. He also always made sure that everyone around him was always well fed! He made the best burgers and steaks. Whenever his grandkids visited him in Texas, they could always count on a big meal waiting for them when they arrived.
Thanks for giving Wellsville the inside story on your father. Feel free to add anything you’d like to the story and any pictures of him with family or behind the griddle would be great. He sure made his mark in our community and many people share in your loss.