Gerald E. Thomas (1929-2019)

Gerald E. Thomas (right) with President Ronald Reagan, 1982
Public Domain Image

Former Naval officer Gerald Eustis Thomas served as United States Ambassador to Guyana and Kenya. Born in Natick, Massachusetts, on June 23, 1929, to Walter and Leila Thomas, President Ronald W. Reagan appointed Gerald E. Thomas to both ambassadorships.

Thomas began his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln in Lincoln, Nebraska. He transferred to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and finished his Bachelor of Science degree there in 1951. He obtained his M.A. in 1966 from George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and his Ph.D. in 1973 from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Retiring with the rank of Rear Admiral, Thomas served 30 years (1951-1981) in the United States Navy. He was the second African American to obtain the rank of Rear Admiral. Samuel Lee Gravely Jr. was the first.

Thomas’s tenure in the U.S. Navy started aboard the U.S.S. Newman K. Perry, where he served from 1951 to 1954. From 1954 to 1956, he served on the U.S.S. Worcester. For the following two years (1956-1957), Thomas attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  From 1957 to 1960 he worked within the National Security Agency (NSA). Holding the rank of Executive Officer, Thomas served aboard the U.S.S. Lowe from 1960 to 1962.  This was followed by a stint as the Assistant Head of the College Training Programs Section with the Bureau of Naval Personnel from 1963 to 1965. He then studied at the Naval War College from 1965 to 1966.

From 1966 to 1967, Thomas served as Prairie View A&M’s NROTC Unit’s Executive Officer in Prairie View, Texas. For the following two years (1967-1969), he remained at Prairie View as Professor of Naval Science. While completing his Ph.D. coursework, Thomas worked with Yale University’s NROTC Unit from 1970 to 1973. Thomas was then named Commander of Destroyer Squadron Nine from 1973 to 1974. He held the same position with Cruiser Destroyer Group Five from 1974 to 1976. For the next two years (1976-1978), Thomas was Director of the Near East and South Asia Region of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defence. He finished his distinguished naval career as the Commander of Training Command of the Pacific Fleet from 1978 to 1981.

On December 1, 1981, President Reagan nominated Gerald E. Thomas as the United States Ambassador to Guyana. After U.S. Senate confirmation, Thomas presented his credentials on February 18, 1982. He headed the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, until September 6, 1983. The following month, on October 7, 1983, President Reagan once again nominated Thomas as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya. Given his credentials on November 9, 1983, he arrived in Nairobi, the capital, a short time later. His tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya ended on September 29, 1989.

Ambassador Gerald Eustis Thomas, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, died on March 20, 2019, in New Haven, Connecticut, at the age of 89. Thomas is survived by his wife, Rhonda, and the couple’s three children.