Ralph Edward Thomas

Sept. 16, 1928 – Jan. 14, 2023

Ralph Edward Thomas, 94, beloved husband, father and grandfather, passed away peacefully Jan.14, 2023, at his home in Gold Canyon, Arizona. He was born on Sept. 16, 1928 in Sheridan, the second of two sons of Earl M. Thomas and Marjorie Z. Thomas. His father’s kin, coal miners from Wales, lived in Hanna, Wyoming, at the time one of the largest coal sources for the Union Pacific railroad. 

Ralph graduated from Sheridan High School in 1946 and immediately enlisted in the Navy, hoping to be ship bound for World War II “mopping up” operations. Learning he was to be trained for land-based communications work, he and two buddies intentionally failed the exams with perfect zeroes. The brass then assigned them to the U.S.S. Burton Island, heading to the South Pole. It turned out to be a great adventure, rescuing Admiral Byrd whose ship had been frozen in the ice pack. His ship then headed to the North Pole region, another icy adventure. 

Home on leave visiting his brother Earl, Ralph met Bonnie Kaan who was visiting her sister, Shirley, then married to Earl. Ralph and Bonnie “clicked” and married in 1949 in Lusk, where Bonnie’s Dutch family had built a sizable ranch. After their first son, Mark, was born in Laramie in 1950, Ralph and Bonnie moved to the Willow Glen Ranch south of Buffalo. Ralph managed the 11,000+ acre cattle ranch and its prize 400+ herd of Hereford stock. He loved his ranching career, riding his favorite horse Peanuts, competing in steer roping at the Buffalo rodeo, supervising the annual Willow Glen branding, dancing with his sweetheart at the county hall, and teaching his sons (now including Scott born in 1953) to ride herd, “put up” hay, and help “pulling calves.” 

In 1962, as the ranch was being sold, Ralph decided to switch careers and become a lawyer, so the Thomases moved to Laramie. Despite the law school dean’s initial skepticism, Ralph excelled, finishing number one in his class in 1965. The family then moved to Lander where Ralph practiced law with Jack Nicholas and served for a while as Deputy County Attorney. In 1971, Ralph was appointed to be the first director of the Wyoming Legislative Service Office (LSO) in Cheyenne. He relished the “friendly battles” with the various governors over the years he spent there. When he retired from the LSO in 1988, accolades came from governors, legislators and all the staff he had nurtured over 17 years. He took on several additional assignments afterward: Clerk of the House, Interim Insurance Commissioner, Interim Auditor, and judge of mineral tax appeals. 

After he and Bonnie decided that a “real retirement” was in order, they moved in 1996 to Gold Canyon, Arizona, and built a beautiful home overlooking their Mountainbrook Village golf course and the magical Superstition Mountains. Their circle of friends was impressive, and they were in constant motion, playing golf, having 19th hole refreshments and traveling with friends or family to the Caribbean, Taiwan, Italy, Holland, Hawaii, Colorado and Washington, DC. Ralph eventually gave up golf when Bonnie beat him a time or two. Bonnie passed away in 2016, but Ralph continued his rich life with the support of friends, family and devoted caregivers. On his last night, he teased his son about being a Democrat, and urged his caregiver to get a good rest after thanking her for a good day. 

Ralph is survived by his sons, Mark (Catherine) and Scott (Elena); grandchildren, Laurie, Bryan (Marissa), David and Carolyn; great-grandchildren Maddie (Jack) and Genna; and great-great grandson Cooper. Ralph and Bonnie’s ashes will be spread on a hill overlooking their home and their mountain. In lieu of flowers, a donation to the United Services Organization (USO) would please Ralph as he always felt at home there in his Navy days. Otherwise, just go watch a John Wayne movie.

A family gathering will take place in Arizona at a later date.