Earl Lewis Thomas was born on Monday, October 4, 1948 in Greenville (Hunt County) Texas, as the fourth of seven children born to Jimmie and Mae Frances (Thomason) Thomas. He attended the Booker T. Washington Elementary School and George Washington Carver and Greenville High Schools, graduating in 1967.
Earl was recruited with a scholarship by the University of Houston (UH), where he played tight end on three nationally ranked Cougar teams, and thoroughly enjoyed the many new friendships of college life. Prior to graduation from UH in 1971, Earl was selected by the Chicago Bears in the sixth round of the National Football League draft, as Jimmy, his older brother, had been by the San Francisco 49ers two years earlier. He was even prouder when the two older Thomas brothers were followed into the League by their youngest brother, Malcolm “Mike” Thomas, as a fifth round pick in 1975. Earl played wide receiver in six NFL seasons with the Bears (1971-73); St. Louis Cardinals (1974-1975); and Houston Oilers (1976). He caught 106 passes in his NFL career for 1,651 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also returned a kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown.
After retiring from the football field, Earl’s energies began to be directed toward a professional business career that began with serving as the owner and Chief Executive Officer of Gold Line Refining Company. Gold Line, a petroleum refining company in Lake Charles, Louisiana, was recognized by Black Enterprise magazine as one of the top Black businesses in the nation.
Later, he went into partnership to form WTM Investments – an affordable housing development and management company. As part of the “Kitchen Cabinet” of the newly formed William A. Lawson Institute for Peace and Prosperity (WALIPP), Earl spearheaded construction of the 50-unit WALIPP Senior Housing project on Scott Street in Houston’s historic Third Ward. He also organized its annual fundraising golf tournaments.
Earl’s heartfelt passion was inspiring youth development in the sports arena. For over thirty-five years, Coach Thomas trained thousands of boys and girls in track and field skills with the Houston track club, other track organizations and at high schools in the local area. As President of Track Houston, Earl zealously spent hours preparing them for district and regional competitions and was named the first National Coach of the Year by USA Track and Field. To his fellow coaches and grateful track parents, he was a Godsend who propelled their kids into scholarship opportunities, identifying potential college referrals and contacting administrators and faculty to promote recruitment. Many scholarships were awarded because of his efforts. Earl was also selected as Program Director for the NFL Alumni Association-Houston Chapter whose mission was “Caring for Kids.” On March 3, 2020, Earl announced the creation of the “Touchdown Guys,” an additional non-profit to counsel and provide residential placement– a second chance—for challenged youth.
Last year, he was honored by the Windsor Village Church’s Kujichagulia Girls Ministry, receiving its 2019 Living Legend Award and having March 2, 2019 proclaimed “Earl Thomas Day” in the city of Houston by Mayor Sylvester Turner, with additional recognition from Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee for the work he did in helping to get the ministry established and his service to the community.
Because of his achievements, Earl was inducted, in 2009, into the Greenville Hall of Fame. In an inexplicable twist of fate, Earl, who was always so cautious and would text about the dangers of this siege of COVID-19 virus, somehow contracted the disease and became its victim after a short hospital stay. On July 4, 2020, he joined his beloved family members — his parents, Jimmie and Mae Frances Thomas, his brothers, Jimmy, Mike, Adolphus and Lamar, in the arms of the God he worshipped consistently and served in earnest. He leaves to cherish his memories his daughters, Connie (Ve) Lovelace of Dallas, TX and Kirbi Thomas (Lanny) Smith of Los Angeles, CA; sons, Christopher Earl (Ann) Thomas and Earl Lewis Thomas, II, both of Houston TX; four grandchildren Taylor, Jayson, Nicholas, and Sydney Thomas of Houston, TX; God daughter, Dr. Olivia Kizzee of Houston, TX; sisters, Reverend Cecelia (James) Barr of Greenville, TX and Glenda Sue (Charles) Venters of Dallas, TX; the widows of his late brothers, Joyce Ashford Thomas of Ft. Worth, TX; and Sylvia Wilkerson Thomas of Houston, Texas, nieces and nephews, other family members and many friends.
There will be a Mobile Memorial Tribute to honor his life and legacy this Saturday, July 18, 2020 from 5pm-7pm at the UH Alumni Center, 3204 Cullen Blvd., Houston, TX 77004 – Entrance 15. Attendees are being asked to remain in their cars and follow the processional line.