Given her velvety smooth voice I could never understand why she never went into broadcasting voice-over work. That beautiful voice was one of the first things I noticed about Judy Thomas – and while growing up on a frontier gave her little opportunity for that sort of thing , when KSRM started broadcasting from (literally) across the road in 1967 it seemed like a slam-dunk use of natural talent to have Judy doing radio commercials and public announcements, but it was not to be. Instead she spent her life taking care of her family, which often included my family as well.
Sadly, we won’t be hearing Judy’s voice say anything more – she passed away late at night on the 6th of May in what was actually a blessed relief from intense pain and discomfort. I am thankful that I was able to talk to her on the phone earlier in the week and share just a few more minutes with a grand lady that was for all intents and purposes my aunt.
Growing up on the Kenai Peninsula in the 1960s meant we formed our own ad hoc extended families . With the price of plane tickets as stratospheric as the actual mode of travel we had little opportunity to spend time with “for real” grandparents and cousins in the Lower 48 so good friends filled in for family. We’d spend Christmas Eve with the Hershberger’s and New Years Eve with the Stringhams.
Bill and Judy’s family? They were there all year round.
My first Thomas family memories date from right after moving to the Peninsula in 1964. Mom, Dad and older sister Robin were all involved with Tuesday night youth activities at the church so my three younger sisters and I spent those evenings with Judy and her toddlers. We never felt like we were at a baby-sitter’s when we were there – it was more like spending time with a young aunt as we read comics, watched “Bewitched” and ate cookies with a unique flavor that I have never known anyone but Judy to bake.
Later on after they moved out to Sterling the tables were slightly turned when I would babysit the Thomas kids when Bill and Judy wanted to get out for a rare date night …but in and around all this kid-surveillance were innumerable dinners, barbecues, sleep-overs, road trips and camping trips all of which served to forge ties that truly did bind. Those ties were such that whenever there was an accident, illness or other disaster the first phone calls were usually between our two families.
It wasn’t just collective assistance either. In my early twenties I went through a shattering emotional disaster that my parents and most other adults around me dismissed rather casually…except for Judy. Our conversation about what was going on was not overly extended, but it was long enough for her to acknowledge that was I was going through was real – and very hard to deal with. As Judy was a decade or so younger than my folks I imagine memories of her own heartbreaks were all that much brighter, which gave her insight that older people lacked. It was a trait that would repeat itself over the years; whenever life kicked me in the teeth Judy’s response was truly caring; where others would try to “fix” me or minimalize the emotional impact, “Jude” would just kind of go “tsk” then acknowledge that I “must really be hurting”, ask how I was doing, and then listen to me vent.
As I started to travel I saw her less often , but no matter how long I was gone each reunion was as warm as a backyard barbecue campfire and the “hellos” and “how are yous” spoken in that resonant purr of hers were just as thoughtful as they were decades ago when we were sitting in her trailer, eating mysterious-flavored cookies and reading comics. I am grateful for the release she had been given from pain, but I will miss her keenly.