Michael Lee “Mike” Thomas
January 13, 1946-September 18, 2023
Michael Lee Thomas was born on January 13, 1946, to Henrietta “Butch” Thomas and Percy Lee Thomas. Mike was the oldest of four children, his three brothers being John, Jerry, and David. He is survived by his brothers; his wife, Lois “Lolly” Thomas; and their children, Jason, Megan, and Stephen Thomas. He was preceded in death by his mother, Butch. Respect is given to the absent Percy for bringing four such upstanding men into the world.
Mike’s childhood was spent in the Keystone and Benson areas in Omaha where he attended Saint Bernard’s Catholic Grade School and Creighton Prep, and was an altar boy at Saint Bernard’s. Mike, his friend, and brothers liked playing street games. The boys’ uncle George taught Mike to ride a bike in the basement of their house. Mike’s interest in cars showed early when he built a go-cart. He had a pet parakeet that he adored. Not one to shirk from trouble, Mike got into plenty of it and readily admitted that had he not joined the military, he probably would have wound up in jail or worse.
Mike’s life was a life of service, serving first in the Air Force during the Vietnam War as a Chaplain’s Assistant, then as an Omaha Police Officer, and after that, as an Operations Manager at the Omaha Airport Authority. As a Chaplain’s Assistant in the Air Force, Mike spent a tour in Thailand, where he and his assigned chaplain would make the dangerous flight into Vietnam to provide religious services to the men and women in the country. To get into Vietnam, Mike and the chaplain would grab a ride on whatever aircraft was going where they needed to go. As a consequence, they often flew on C-123s, the airplanes notoriously used to spray the deadly defoliant Agent Orange. Mike was honorably discharged in 1967, after a four-year enlistment.
After his discharge, he worked a number of odd jobs, including as a gas station manager and as an employee at the old MacFayden’s auto dealership. “Old man” MacFayden became a mentor to Mike and something of a father figure, providing guidance to him, a much-needed relationship, as his own father Percy had left the family when Mike and his brothers were very young. This relationship fueled his love for sportscars and, in a short span in his twenties, he bought and sold about ten Corvettes and any number of other fast cars and hot rods.
Mike was a lifelong lover of flying. He began taking flying lessons and got his private pilot’s license in the late sixties. During his time as a pilot, he co-owned several airplanes and enjoyed taking his family on flights. Among several exciting near-misses, Mike, Lolly, and his brother, Jerry, survived a very bad landing on an unlit private airfield one night in 1978. Jerry, the pilot on that flight, was an instructor pilot in the Air Force at the time. In typical Mike fashion, he offered to tell the police that he was flying so that Jerry wouldn’t get in trouble with his superiors (Jerry didn’t take him up on the offer).
In 1972, Mike joined the Omaha Police Department and rose to the rank of Sergeant. Over his 25-year career, he served as a patrolman, motorcycle officer, homicide investigator, and finally as the Sergeant at child services. He garnered a reputation over his career for his honesty and integrity among his fellow officers, the local judges, and many lawyers. Mike gained national attention when he arrested a local doctor who had refused to administer a blood-alcohol test to a suspected drunk driver. Despite great pressure to not file the charges, Mike stuck to his guns, stuck to the law, and stuck to the charges. He retired from the force in 1997.
Mike and Lolly met in 1976 and married in 1977. Because Mike worked nights and weekends as a full-time policeman and part-time as a security guard, Lolly raised the kids. The strain of living separate lives was the cause of their divorce in 1986. After the divorce, despite his grueling work commitments, Mike made it a priority to make time for the kids, usually spending one or two days per week with them. Over the years, Mike and Lolly both remarried and divorced. In 2011, they reunited to begin a journey of healing. They had their second wedding in 2013 and the reunited family remained whole until Mike’s death. Without the strains that ended their first marriage, they spent their latter marriage very happy and very much in love.
While working full-time as a police officer and moonlighting as a security guard, Mike studied full-time for his Bachelors Degree in Business Administration, graduating with a 4.0 grade point average from Bellevue University in 1997.
After leaving the police force, Mike came on as an Operations Manager for the Omaha Airport Authority, which runs Eppley Airport. His role was one of a quick-thinking manager who had to have the foresight to assess situations and allocate resources in order to head off problems which could easily halt air traffic and even prove fatal. He coordinated people and equipment with slim margins of error. His tireless work during the 2011 flood helped avert the flooding and destruction of Eppley’s runways and terminals.
As the eldest child in a fatherless family, to his time comforting distraught servicemembers as a chaplain’s assistant in the Air Force, to his hard work as a cop, to providing for his kids as a divorcee, to making sure airliners landed safely at Eppley, Mike was a protector. From childhood, Mike was an avid lover of animals and had a near-mystical empathy with them. Everywhere he worked (except maybe when at the Airport Authority), he left food out for the strays, making time to do so even on holidays and other days off. Some of his favorite and darkest stories of his time on the police force were of times when he had the chance to help out –to save— children who were being hurt. A favorite saying of his that stuck with many, was, “there is a special place in hell for people who hurt animals and children.” Those hard, protective, and fundamentally caring words very much summed up the way he approached the world and all God’s creatures within it.
In conversation, Mike was direct yet affable, usually polite and gracious, and yet perfectly willing to take up a position contrary to present company. Like all the Thomas boys, he had strong convictions and an inborn integrity to stick to his guns. Despite the strength of his convictions, he was rarely closed-minded and would meditate on a contrary opinion for hours or days after the end of a conversation. This trait belied a broader, deeper sensitivity to others that was ever-present yet rarely shown.
Mike was a lover of classical music, jazz (especially Vince Garibaldi), airplanes, fast cars, fast food, good conversation, dirty martinis, naps, guns, his old cat, Charlie, Lolly, his kids, and his family and friends. Later in life, when work wound down, he made it a point to spend more time with family and friends. After retirement, he struck up excellent friendship with a group of guys who called themselves the Widowers’ Club. Even when he might not have had the good sense to reach out to others, his door was rarely shut to anyone. He would welcome you in with a firm handshake or a hug and see you out with the same. Then he would wait at the front door to see you off, watching with bygone hospitality as you drove away.
Mike died peacefully at home on Monday, September 18, 2023, in the presence of Lolly and his son Stephen, after a short and intense battle with cancer.
Carry on, Mike Thomas.
This obituary is in no way complete, as no obituary can ever be complete. Our lives are replete with stories and memories, good and bad, each of which contributes to the amazing mural of our lives. And no life is complete without each of those memories, spreading across the canvas brightly or maybe as one tiny spot. Each of you who remembers Mike has some memory that is a part of what made him him. Chock-full of omissions, intentional and unintentional, consider this obituary an invitation to recall and share your own stories of Mike Thomas, that his life, a blessing, can be better and more truly known.
Visitation: Saturday, September 30, 2023, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., at the West Center Chapel, 7805 W. Center Rd. Interment with Military Honors: Monday, October 2, 2023, 10 a.m., Omaha National Cemetery, 14250 Schram Rd.