William Preston “Bill” Thomas of Greenwood, Miss., row crop farmer, conservationist and businessman, died June 2 in a head-on automobile collision on Highway 49 just north of Sidon, Miss., near the family's farm. Anthony Buchanan, 29, the driver of the other vehicle also was killed.
Thomas, 51, was a graduate of the University of Mississippi and Mississippi College School of Law and was the son of the late James Talbert “Tol” Thomas, another familiar name to Mid-South agriculture.
Bill Thomas operated Egypt Planting Co., which included more than 6,000 acres of cotton, soybeans, corn and milo in Leflore, Carroll and Holmes counties.
“Not only was Bill a superb farmer, he was a superb person,” says Buck Harris of Cruger, Miss., a friend and fellow farmer. “He took everyone seriously. He was very friendly and easy to get along with.
“I served on two boards with him, one with the farm supply and one with Holmes Gin. Bill made excellent business decisions and was always considerate of other people's feelings. He was just a superb individual as far as business and farming techniques. I had the privilege to work with his grandfather, his father and Bill. I've had connections with the three generations for a long period of time,” says Harris.
“Bill and I talked quite frequently about practices that I was doing and what he was doing,” adds Harris. “He was a great steward of the land and did a tremendous job of conservation and controlling erosion on his farm.”
Perhaps no one was more aware of Thomas' dedication to land and water conservation than James Johnson, area conservationist with Mississippi's Natural Resources and Conservation Service. At his death, Thomas had served 10 years as chairman of the Leflore County Soil and Water Conservation District.
“He was a gentleman among gentlemen and one of the nicest people I've ever known,” says Johnson. “He was dedicated to conservation of our soil, water and natural resources, and he cared about how his farming operation would reflect on him personally. He wanted to be sure he wasn't wasting natural resources.”
Johnson says Thomas' concern for natural resources didn't end with his farm; he also served on various committees and boards that oversaw the implementation and funding of district and state conservation efforts.
“He had a higher concern about the natural resources of the county and state,” says Johnson. “He was interested in what was being done by others. He had a community spirit.
“I cannot think of another person I would rather be on a team or committee with. He was always respectful of other people's thoughts and ideas and always encouraged other people to give their ideas. He was persistent in his ways but not pushy. He was predictable, solid and truthful.
“His death is a tremendous loss for the community, for the Delta and for the state,” says Johnson. “We will feel the loss from this tragedy for a long time.”
Bill Litton, president of Wade Incorporated in Greenwood, calls Thomas “solid” and “generous.”
“Bill and I were very close friends. He was one of those solid guys you have in the community,” he says.
Litton says Thomas will be remembered for his generosity to his community, to the agricultural community, to his church, the private academy and other groups and organizations.
“He always had good solid advice when you asked for it. He was on the leading edge in a lot of his farming practices. He was a ‘go to’ guy,” says Litton. “It is going to be a real void in the local community and in the farming community just because he touched so many areas of farming.”
Thomas has at various times served on committees and boards of such agricultural strongholds as Staplcotn, Delta Council, Farmers' Supply Co-op and Delta Wildlife. He was a former Farmer of the Year in Greenwood and a member of Beulah Island Hunting Club.
His community involvement included leadership roles in the Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Planters Bank and Trust, Endowment Board of Pillow Academy and the Greenwood Country Club.
Thomas enjoyed tennis and was a licensed pilot.
Services for Thomas were held Saturday, June 5, at the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Greenwood.
William Preston “Bill” Thomas is survived by his wife, Jane Carter Thomas, his son, William Preston Thomas Jr., and a daughter, Ann Carter Thomas, all of Greenwood; two brothers, James Talbert Thomas IV of Jackson and Sanford Cole Thomas of Oxford; his father-in-law and mother-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. William Shands Carter of Ruston, La.; and an uncle and aunt, Bob and Steele Thomas Hardeman of Greenwood.
He was preceded in death by his father, James Talbert Thomas, and mother, Betty Jane Thomas.