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Merrill Pratt Thomas1908-2008

Full life included plenty of fun, parties

SUN CITY CENTER — Merrill Thomas loved to attend the symphony. She was an accomplished painter and musician, an avid golfer and an intellectual. She traveled all over the world and had a passion for philanthropy.

You could call her a Renaissance woman. Her friends describe her somewhat differently.

"She was a party girl, no doubt about it," said her longtime friend Joan Phelps. "She loved to party."

Just one example: About a year ago, she invited 100 of her closest friends to celebrate her birthday. She was turning 99.

She gave all her guests a bookmark, on which she had written some thoughts about her approach to life. "There are three things I will never give up," it read. "Salt, cheese and chocolate."

Mrs. Thomas died March 6 at her Sun City Center home, less than two months after her 100th birthday.

Her life was not merely long, her friends said. It was packed with adventure and accomplishments from her early years until her last days.

She was born into a wealthy family in Memphis, Tenn., and moved with her parents and her sister to Columbus, Miss., in her teens. She graduated from Randolph-Macon Women's College and returned to Columbus, planning to become a teacher.

"It was the Depression," her friend and neighbor Sister Rosalie Hennessey said. "She was told that her father could support her so they would give the job to someone who needed the money."

So instead of going to work, she went to Europe for a couple of months. After she came home, she went to visit an aunt in Shanghai. She ended up staying there for a year.

She was sailing back home when the ship stopped in Singapore. It was there, at a party, that she met Millard Thomas. He was an American, based in Indonesia, working for an American oil company.

They fell instantly in love and were engaged before she got back home. They married, and she lived with him in Indonesia until World War II made it unsafe. But in her time there she developed a passion for golf.

"That was the life in the Indies, as they called it," Phelps said. "Golf, tennis and endless partying."

They moved to Manhattan, where they lived an active life of world travel and cultural and social activities until her husband retired and the couple moved to Sun City Center in 1970. They had been married for more than 60 years when her husband died in the mid 1990s.

She always missed New York, friends said, but she loved her life in Sun City Center. She played golf regularly until she was 92. She involved herself in philanthropic causes, co-founding the Community Foundation of Sun City Center, and continued to indulge her passion for reading, learning and other intellectual pursuits.

"She loved to do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, and she was doing it right up until a few weeks ago," Phelps said. "How many 100-year-old people can do that? And there weren't many blank spaces left, I can tell you that for sure."

Lately, Mrs. Thomas had spoken often about how badly she missed her husband and that she hoped they would be reunited soon. She had been in fairly good health for someone of her age, but last week she died peacefully in her sleep.

"I think she just decided it was time," Hennessey said.

Marty Clear can be reached at mclear@tampabay.rr.com.

Full life included plenty of fun, parties 03/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 3:06pm]
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