Philanthropist Lee B. Thomas dies at age 90 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Philanthropist Lee B. Thomas dies at age 90

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Lee B. Thomas, Jr. Lee B. Thomas, Jr.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A local philanthropist has died.

Lee B. Thomas, Jr. passed away on Tuesday in Louisville. 

Thomas was 90-years-old.

Born in 1926, Thomas' family says he marched with Martin Luther King Junior when he came to Louisville in the 1960's. 

Thomas was also elected to the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Lee B. Thomas Jr. was born in Washington State in 1926 and died in Louisville, KY on August 23, 2016 at the age of 90.

Lee served in the US Army in WWII, first in combat on the Philippine island of Mindanao, and then in the occupation of Japan. He returned to the US in 1946 a lifelong pacifist, and worked tirelessly throughout his life in the cause of peace.

He met Joan Thomas in 1948 at a Quaker work camp, and the two married in 1949, when Lee graduated from Yale, and Joan from Swarthmore. They lived in Chicago for a few years before moving to Louisville, Kentucky, where Lee began his business career and where Joan later practiced medicine. Joan and Lee were active in founding the Louisville Friends Meeting (Quakers) and also were principal in starting the Kentucky Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. During their 62 years of marriage they worked together on numerous causes with interests including civil rights, child, women’s, and family welfare, education, and the pursuit of peace. Lee marched with Martin Luther King when he came to Louisville in the 1960’s, and he was an active supporter of the NAACP. He was elected to the Kentucky Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

Lee’s business career began in 1954 at the then-small American Saw and Tool Company on Main Street in Louisville, and under his leadership the company grew from a single-product supplier to Sears Roebuck to an international public corporation of 5000 people, with manufacturing locations around the US, in Canada, Australia and Germany. He had a vision of business ethic, human values, and corporate conduct that infused the company and defined its culture. After the company was acquired in 1989 by outside interests, Lee continued his business career as chairman of the Universal Woods Corporation, a growing company with Louisville headquarters. He served as Executive in Residence at Bellarmine University School of Business where he lectured on a wide ranges of business topics informed with his vision of ethical behavior. He was awarded an honorary degree from Bellarmine and elected to the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame in recognition of his accomplishments.

Lee was a fiercely competitive bridge player, and he attained Life Master status in both the ABA and the ACBL bridge leagues.

Lee is survived by 3 children, 10 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at the Home of the Innocents on Saturday, September 24th at 2:00 pm. Expressions of Sympathy may be made to the Home of the Innocents.

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