News Release 11-068
Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission
1111 Israel Road S.W., P.O. Box 42650, Olympia, WA 98504-2650, (360) 902-8500
Don Hoch, Director
Virginia Painter: (360) 902-8562
Wash. Telecommunications Relay Service:
State Parks mourns loss of former Commissioner Joan Thomas
Nov. 30, 2011 –
Staff and Commission members alike remember former State Parks and Recreation Commissioner Joan Thomas as a savvy and tireless parks and recreation advocate whose work added immense value to the natural, cultural and historical resources of the state.
Thomas died at home Monday.
“Joan’s passing is very sad to us here at State Parks,” said Don Hoch, agency director. “Joan was a true public servant, and she was unwavering in her work to preserve parks and recreational opportunities. Joan was passionate about stewardship and had a deep connection with our natural world. She was a good friend and a mentor to many, and we will really miss her.”
Thomas was appointed to the Commission in 1997 and subsequently completed two, six-year terms and an additional year as a Commission member. Even after she retired from the Commission, she ventured to Olympia frequently to talk with legislators on both sides of the aisle about the importance of parks, recreation and natural places.
Thomas was a founding board member of the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition. In 2008, that organization created a new award and named it for her: The Joan Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. At its award breakfast that year, two former governors, Gov. Daniel J. Evans and Gov. Mike Lowry, joined Gov. Chris Gregoire to present the very first award to the lady for which it was named. Thomas was shocked and surprised, and a packed Seattle Convention Center audience leapt to its feet with thunderous and enthusiastic applause – and a few tears.
“Joan was more than a friend, she was a leader and an inspiration,” said Gov. Gregoire in a statement issued today. “She led some of the most important conservation and environmental protection efforts in our state. She not only embraced the outdoors, but she made them accessible to thousands. If you’re in a park in Washington state, chances are that Joan, at one point, had a hand in its creation, expansion, or preservation. She loved our wild areas and used her political skill to keep them for public use. She’ll be missed—not just by me, but by countless generations of Washingtonians’ who owe Joan their thanks for creating the Washington we know.”
During her working career, Thomas worked for the State Board of Tax Appeals and then became the first woman manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology. In her political life, she was an activist on Initiative 215, establishing the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, now called the Recreation Conservation Office. She was instrumental in passing landmark pieces of environmental legislation, including the Washington Clean Water Act, the State Environmental Policy Act and Washington’s Shorelines Management Act. She was a past president of the Washington Environmental Council and the League of Women Voters of Washington. She loved art and theater.
During her time on the Commission, Thomas saw the development and progress of long-distance land and water recreation trails, the opening of Rasar and Cama Beach state parks, three major park expansions at Cape Disappointment, Deception Pass and Pearrygin Lake state parks; and the development of the Lewis and Clark National-State Historic Park. She helped to move forward several major State Parks initiatives, including the Centennial 2013 Vision and the agency’s Natural Resource Stewardship Policy and training program.
Upon her retirement from the Commission, Gov. Gregoire honored Thomas with a proclamation naming her a “Commissioner for Life.” At the time, Thomas cited as her favorite moments the transfer of Old Man House State Park to the Suquamish Tribe and completion of her State Parks stewardship training. She wore her State Parks stewardship pin with pride.
“State Parks has lost a great lady who was a long-time advocate for the public and believed everyone should have quality parks and recreation,” said Joe Taller, Commission chair. “We were from different political persuasions, but we could discuss and work together toward common goals, and it was a pleasure. She will be dearly missed. I lost a good friend.”
Rex Derr, retired former director of State Parks, said Thomas set the bar high for State Parks, in open government, resource protection and understanding and respecting the cultures of others. “Joan did wonders by connecting the State Parks mission with other civic and political allies. Commissioner Thomas was a blessing for Parks when we most needed her gifts.”
Former Commissioner Clyde Anderson of Spokane said, “A book about Joan would be a fascinating book to read, because of accomplishments and experiences throughout her very active life. She went beyond the call of duty and gave so much personal time to fulfill her pledge to the Commission.”
“Folks always talk about ‘leaving a legacy.’ Many times, that’s a cliché,” said another former State Parks Director Cleve Pinnix. “But it’s hard to think about Joan’s decades of activism and public service without the legacy term being right there. This state is a better place to live and recreate in because of Joan Thomas. Generations not yet born will benefit from her tireless work. That’s truly the case. We’ll mourn her loss, but we should, above all else, celebrate her life and work.”