‘Even in death, she is still teaching.’ DFW educator stayed true to her mission

Judy Thomas has refused to let cancer define her

Judy Thomas has continued to put in hundreds of volunteer hours for Sam Houston High School, while battling cancer.
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Judy Thomas has continued to put in hundreds of volunteer hours for Sam Houston High School, while battling cancer.

While battling cancer, Judy Thomas didn’t blink.

She knew the deadly disease would eventually prevail.

“We’re all going to die sometime so I’m going to do what I can while I’m here,” Thomas told the Star-Telegram in June.

And she was true to her word.

As recently as November, Thomas was still substitute teaching at Arlington Sam Houston High School even as she needed oxygen to breathe.

She died on Jan. 5 from complications of cancer at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital. She was 71. A celebration of life is scheduled for 10 a.m. Jan. 19 at the Sam Houston High School Auditorium.

That’s appropriate because the high school has never existed without Thomas roaming the halls.

She was part of its first graduating class in 1965 and taught special education and social studies for 39 years before retiring in 2011. After retirement, she worked as a substitute teacher and testing coordinator to remain involved at the school.

“I’ve been a student or teacher for every principal in the history of Sam Houston,” Thomas said.

She was also a former president of the Sam Houston High School Alumni Association, which raised more than $50,000 in scholarships, helped stock the food pantry and won grants for the baseball and softball teams.

“I want them to have the best life possible,” Thomas said. “I want them to succeed at whatever kind of dreams they have. for themselves.”

In the 2016-17 school year, 87 percent of Sam Houston’s students were economically disadvantaged, which was higher than the districtwide average of 69 percent, according to the Texas Education Agency.

“It’s one worry off of these children that we could get them in a higher education or get them into a vocational program so that they have a skill for life,” Thomas said.

The Arlington City Council declared June 13 last year as Judy Thomas Day for her work as a teacher and volunteer after she retired in 2011. Since 2013, Thomas helped raise $50,000 for scholarships.

Thomas was diagnosed in 2016 with a rare form of cancer.

Shes had radiation to shrink a tumor, made countless trips to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where she was part of a clinical trial and then was treated locally. She went through another round of chemotherapy a week before she became sick and had to be hospitalized.

Despite the recognition from the city, Thomas made clear it was never about her — it was always for the students.

“She took care of everybody,” said her daughter, Jayme Thomas, who is a teacher at Sam Houston. “She was always Aunt Judy. I think people felt like, if it was coming from Judy, you better listen.”

Brenda Allen, who has known the family since she was in the sixth grade, said Thomas was there for her at a time of need.

“After my own mom passed she just stepped into that role as caregiver and mother,” Allen said. “I think she sensed that. When my own daughter was born she was right by side. You didn’t have to ask. She just showed up.”

Both Allen and her daughter said Judy Thomas is still imparting lessons by asking for donations be made to the SHHS Alumni Association and by donating her body to medical research.

“Even in death, she is still teaching because she chose to have her body donated to UT Southwestern,” Allen said. “She’s teaching another round of students.”

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Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.