John Willard Thomas, a grandson of Thomas Built Buses founder Perley A. Thomas and a former lead engineer, president, CEO and chairman for the school bus manufacturer, passed away Oct. 26 after a short illness. He was thought to be 90.
John also served as a regional sales manager for the High Point, North Carolina company before directing all sales. He retired in 1992.
He was born in 1927 to J. Willard Thomas, son of Perley A. Thomas who started Thomas Built Buses in 1916, and wife Mavis Bucette Thomas. After graduating high school, John served in World War II as an aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Upon returning from war, he attended Virginia Tech University and graduated in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in manufacturing engineering.
John is survived by wife Judith, sons John, III (Beth), Mat, and Bruce (Cindy), 13 grandchildren and six great grandchildren, and four stepchildren and their children who John considered as grandchildren.
Caley Edgerly, the current president and CEO of Thomas Built Buses, said John Thomas helped shaped the school bus industry and made the company what it is today.
"All of us at Thomas Built Buses are saddened to hear of the passing of John Thomas Jr., the grandson of our founder. We feel blessed that we were able to get reacquainted with him at our 100-year anniversary and I personally appreciate the guidance he has given me over the last two years,” Edgerly said in a statement. “He never stopped leading, and he never lost his passion for the purpose of the yellow school bus. He is an icon in our industry and community, and he will be greatly missed.”