Obituary: U.S. Senator Craig Thomas
by Family of Craig Thomas
June 8, 2007
Wyoming’s U.S. Senator Craig Lyle Thomas passed peacefully June 4, 2007, surrounded by his family. By the age of 74, the senior senator from Wapiti, Wyoming achieved his life’s dream – to make a lasting difference for the State of Wyoming and the people who proudly call it home.
His was a humble beginning. Born February 17, 1933, he was the son of school teachers in Cody, Wyoming who in the summers operated a small dude business on the edge of Yellowstone National Park. It was there and then that he developed a child’s love of special places that would later inspire his parenting of our National Parks.
During those summers guiding on horseback, he also learned to work hard and to earn one’s way in the world. Those who knew him, either closely or observing from a distance, witnessed the same quality of Craig Thomas: a cowboy’s tireless work ethic and respect for those around him. He held that ethic throughout his career. Without doubt, his modest start in life shaped his nature as a fiscal conservative and his lifelong dedication to advocate for the average Wyoming person.
It will surprise no one who knew him politically that Craig was a wrestler, and a good one at that. Following high school in Cody, he attended the University of Wyoming and joined its wrestling team. The University’s legendary wrestling coach Everett Lance was an important influence, training Craig’s competitive focus with an ethic of how to win with more than simple strength, but with honor and strength of character.
Academically, Craig studied agriculture at UW and earned a bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry, thinking perhaps he might later try his hand in the ranch business. But like most men in the late1950s, first came military service, and for an athletic man with determination and drive, the Marine Corps was a perfect fit. Trained at Quantico, Craig was stationed in Japan in the later part of that more peaceful decade, rising to the rank of Captain.
He returned home with a broadened view of the world and the powers that shape it. Agriculture policy and the issues of the West compelled him and he began work for the Wyoming Farm Bureau, the American Farm Bureau in Washington, DC and later the Wyoming Rural Electric Association. Reflecting his roots in small business, he also bought a small hotel in Torrington, Wyoming which would ground him squarely in the state’s tourism policy for years to come.
It was during these Wyoming years, based in Casper, that he met a young educator of high school children with special needs. Susan Roberts and Craig Thomas found much in common. Raised on a ranch in Barnum, Susan also shared Craig’s love of Wyoming, horses, politics and people. Theirs was a remarkable marriage as life partners and each others best friend.
Craig’s political ambitions took hold with races for the State Treasurer’s Office and the Wyoming State House of Representatives. Like the wrestler he was trained to be, Craig tried each of these matches persistently. Coach Lance taught him that each match trains you for the next, and Craig joked often that he had learned those early political lessons the hard way.
In 1989, came the match of his life. A special election to replace then-US Congressman Dick Cheney for Wyoming’s at large House seat. Forty long and hard fought days later, Craig won the race. Elected on a springtime Wednesday and sworn into Congress the following Monday, Craig became a member of the Wyoming Congressional Delegation, serving with his boyhood friend, U.S. Senator Al Simpson, and U.S. Senator Malcolm Wallop. Then in 1994 with Wallop’s retirement, Craig chose to run for the U.S. Senate, winning that race, then in 2000 and again in 2006. Over that time, U.S. Senator Craig Thomas became one of Wyoming’s most popular and beloved public servants.
While he ran successfully in statewide election after election, he also ran every morning with his wife Susan in the early hours, long before most alarm clocks were set to ring. He arrived eager to work just about the time wake-up buzzers sounded for the rest of the city. Their fitness passion and focus on health helped him look younger than his age, a fact of which he was proud. It would also help him as he fought his disease. His doctors said men of lesser strength would not have been able to battle as well as he did the aggressive cancer in his blood.
Tough country breeds uncompromising values, tested by experience. The grit of Craig Thomas is legendary. He never backed down from a challenge. On the floor of the Senate or the rodeo arena, he continued to fight and rope, wrestle and win with honor. Those close to him knew that behind his strength was a constant faith that carried him through each brave experience. He was devout, quietly and steadfastly with abiding hope. Craig knew where he came from, knowing exactly the man he was. Craig’s Senate colleague and friend, Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi, said on the floor of the Senate, “Although that last battle of his life was lost, there were so many victories in his life that we will long remember. Craig died as he lived, with his spurs on, fighting for Wyoming to the very end.”
As Wyoming’s senior US Senator, Craig positioned himself on the committees with the greatest legislative importance for Wyoming. In addition to serving on the Energy Committee, he served on the Senate’s most powerful panel – the Senate Finance Committee, as well as Agriculture, Indian Affairs, and Ethics. In his work, Wyoming and Wyoming people were central. His efforts in job creation and economic growth are the foundation of his vision to improve the quality of life for a better future for people in communities across the state.
His distinguished legislative record on issues as diverse as public land management, agriculture, fiscal responsibility and rural health care have made a difference in the lives of Wyoming people. He valued resources – the energy resources with which Wyoming is blessed as well as the scenic resources that help create special places and tourism.
From his position on the highly coveted chairmanship of the Senate Energy Committee’s National Park Subcommittee, Craig Thomas worked tirelessly on National Park policy and smart ways to help the parks with infrastructure – from management reforms to landmark improvements in concessionaire policy to roads to visitors centers.
National visitors and state residents have benefited dramatically from Craig’s work for quality national parks. His efforts resulted in many national recognitions and awards.
The character of Craig Thomas as a public servant was based on a Marine’s sense of responsibility to the people who elected him. Early on in his career Craig made the profound accountability he felt for the people who elected him his bond. He talked often about the obligations each of us has to achieve something better through hard work and leadership. He and Susan would say they work in Washington, but they live in Wyoming. He traveled persistently to Wyoming each weekend so that he would know what Wyoming people needed and wanted. Craig Thomas worked, fought and led every day within this ethic: that it was an honor to serve Wyoming and Wyoming people.
Outside of his duties as a Legislator, Congressman and Senator, Craig was active in the community in other important ways. He involved himself in volunteer efforts that included the Special Olympics of Wyoming, the state Developmental Disabilities Council, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation on which he and his wife Susan shared roles as Honorary Chairmen. He helped countless organization in raising money for locally and state based causes. And from 4-H to Girls State, rodeo clubs to the spelling bee teams, vo-tech to valedictorian, Craig gave his time, kindness and inspiration to thousands of Wyoming school kids.
While tough and tested as an individual, there was another side, a lighter one that distinguished him. What many will tell you about Craig Thomas is that he loved to laugh and loved to collect jokes, both good and bad. He flashed a mischievous smile each time he told one and he relished in the reaction he would raise. He laughed with his whole body, broad shoulders and bright eyes.
His life was blessed with four children and later, with their growing families, nine grandchildren. His sons, Peter, Patrick, Greg, and daughter, Lexie, shared their father with an entire state and nation. They wish to thank the people of Wyoming and this great country for the love and support given so generously during their father’s illness and passing. Each of Craig’s children carries the hope that his legacy will live on, in the ways that their father wanted, both small and large, for generations to come.
Many dignitaries from far and wide mourn his passing. President of the United States George W. Bush called Craig “a man of character and integrity known for his devotion to the values he shared with the people of Wyoming.” But in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, there are others, many others who share a common pain of his loss. Ask the elevator operators, the cashiers, the janitors and they, like most, would say what a wonderful person Craig Thomas was. His staff and the people who have had the privilege to work for him over the years will tell all you of his kindness and the open family character that is the nature of his office. Each will say what a great, good guy Craig Thomas was. Because no matter who you were Craig took time each day, every day, to talk to you, to say hello and not to simply pass by. In Wyoming, people in each town, each county, feel a loss because Craig gave so much of himself. He gave his time, his passion, his leadership and his tireless energy to make Wyoming a better place.
Craig Thomas represented Wyoming with honor and dignity. Admired by those who knew him, he gives us a legacy of unmatched legislative accomplishments – a brilliant example of what one can do with a life lived with determination, strength of character and vision. How Craig Thomas lived was as a success, achieving unassumingly what he set out to do: to make a difference for the state and the people he loved. Many people might hope to live as they dream. Craig did. He was an honorable man who loved his wife Susan dearly, gave tirelessly to his state and country and left his beloved Wyoming a better place. He leaves behind a family of thousands and the unparalleled legacy of a humble, true western hero.