Bob L. Thomas was born Feb. 27, 1937, in the Hill County community of Birome and moved to Waco in 1942, where he attended public schools. Although confined to a wheelchair since contracting polio at 15, he was active in sports in his early years, in football, as a starting wingback for the North Junior High School Eagles and in track, breaking the District record in the 100-yeard dash in 1952. He earned a Bachelor of Business Administration at Baylor in 1958 and graduated first in his class from Baylor Law School in 1960.
After graduation, Thomas engaged in a general law practice from 1961 until 1972. He represented McLennan County in the Texas House of Representatives from 1967 to 1970, the year he was elected McLennan County Judge. He served a County Judge until 1982, when he was elected a Justice of the Tenth Court of Appeals. In 1988, he was elected Chief Justice of the court, a position he held until his death.
Judge Thomas received many honors during his life, including being named one of the "Ten Outstanding Young Men in America" in 1973 by the United States Jaycees and "Disabled Person of the Year" in 1987 by the Governor's Committee for Disabled Persons. Other than his elected positions, Judge Thomas served his community and State in many ways, including Chairman of the Texas Council of Chief Justices in 1992, Chairman of the State Bar Committee on Court Rules in 1991, and Chairman of the Council on Disabilities from 1982 to 1983 by appointment of Governor Mark White.
Judge Thomas will be remembered as an inspiration to many by gracefully proving that adversity can be overcome through hard work, intellect and determination. He was revered as a legal scholar and jurist, but equally for his wit and political savvy. He demonstrated throughout his life that the size of the heart overcomes the limitations of the body.
Judge Thomas died Feb. 20, 1996, at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas, from respiratory complications brought on by double pneumonia. He was 58.
Sources: various articles and obituaries found in The Bob L. Thomas Papers, BCPM, Box 1, File 9.