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San Clemente Journal

Bill Thomas - Volunteer Emeritus

Mar 23, 2023 09:37AM ● By Donia Moore

Thomas with his wife, Diane when he was awarded Citizen of the Year for 2007.

by Donia Moore

If you want to get something done in San Clemente, you have to go to the people who can do it. For over 20 years, one of those people has been Dr. William G. Thomas, better known to long time San Clemente residents as “Bill.” 

Need a Skate Park for the kids? Call Bill. Want a sensory garden for disabled children? Courtney’s Sandcastle was the result of his unending enthusiasm. How about four Literary Clubs, a Library refurbishment, a Cyber Café, Sports Park, Dog Park, Aquatics Center? If it is something for San Clemente residents, especially the kids, Bill is on it. 

Presently in his 90s, these are achievements performed just since his retirement from a lifetime of academia and education. Becoming a steady stream of organizing, his community contributions began with surfing and other water events like races and competitions for the kids. He even tried some surfing, himself, but the results were not as favorable as he had hoped, so he continued doing what he did best … organizing. 

Gaslights and Grease paints
But Bill’s life wasn’t always about academia and organization. As a young man he led a colorful life in Hollywood with show biz parents. Born not far from the famous Hollywood sign, he was the child of a mother who was an actress and a father who was a theater and touring company manager. He graduated from Hollywood High School and attended Occidental College. But it wasn’t long before the stage lights called to him, too, and he left home to “go on the road” as an actor in Tennessee William’s production the Summer and Smoke. And while traveling throughout the western states, he was learning all about technical theatrics on the job. 
When the Korean conflict reared its ugly head, he joined the Navy. Soon headed overseas to join the other American troops stationed there, he participated in producing shows for military audiences. 

Returning from Southeast Asia, Bill chose the theatrical field to make his mark. UCLA claimed his loyalty, and he eventually earned a BA and MA in Applied Arts there. Simultaneously, he worked in the theater and television trade, first as a sound technician with such television shows as “I Love Lucy” and “The Danny Thomas Show,” later stepping in as a general theater manager, technical director, and college teacher.

Traveling the World for his Students
While teaching, he became a placement officer for the university, traveling the world in search of opportunities for UCLA college graduates. He soon married his high school sweetheart, Diane, whom he met in elementary school. He and Diane made their home in Germany for a couple of years as he explored European possibilities for American graduates. Then in 1998, Bill found himself teaching at Saddleback College and commuting to the San Fernando Valley every night. The drive was long and arduous. He considered moving to New York for a while but discovered that Diane preferred the quieter Orange County life. Luckily, he had landed a position at Saddleback College that would allow him more creative academic freedom and to move his family to San Clemente. With his oldest son Greg already established in Dana Point, the burgeoning Spanish Village by the Sea was the perfect place for them. 

Once settled in town, Bill became intently and intensively involved in San Clemente.  For most of his life here, he dedicated himself and his talents to doing what “couldn’t be done” for San Clemente kids, like the Ralph’s Skate Park, or Courtney’s Sandcastle. All of the projects Bill took on were challenging, sometimes taking much longer than anticipated to clear the city channels. But Bill doesn’t give up. Ralph’s skate park was a prime example. In an attempt to collect money to build the park, he and his dedicated team went from local business to local business, putting donation cans everywhere possible in San Clemente. Not only did this help to publicize the project, it motivated San Clemente residents to take on the project as their own. Unfortunately, none of Bill’s achievements bear his name, but all of them reflect on the positive energy he expended for his adopted community.

On a personal level, the Thomas’ lifelong partnership was inspiring. “Diane was an incredible woman and a fantastic editor who really kept me going” says Bill of his lovely, sorely missed wife. Diane passed a few years ago, leaving Bill and their four sons to continue the family legacy of service to the community.

A prolific writer, Bill has written a number of books about what constitutes academic excellence as well as articles about his extensive travel adventures. He is very proud to have had many of his articles accepted by all the different San Clemente publications and feels that this is one of his biggest achievements. 

Dapper and still dedicated to improving life in San Clemente, Bill Thomas says he continues having lots of ideas for community improvements. We can’t wait to see what the next project might be for Dr. William G. Thomas, but if he’s on it, we know without a doubt that it will get done!

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