Patty and Jack Thomas in 2006

Jack Thomas, who served Sandoval County at various times as a Rio Rancho city councilor, Sandoval County commissioner and state representative, died Feb. 17 at the age of 78.

Following his loss in his bid for a second term as the District 60 state representative, Thomas — who seemingly always wore orange as a tribute to his beloved Cleveland Browns — said if anyone needed him, they could find him on the golf course.

He was born Oct. 26, 1942, in Dayton, Ohio, and worked as a lineman for electric companies. He and his wife of 57 years, Patty, and their daughter Karen moved to Rio Rancho in 1977 — and never left.

A lineman for PNM, his first run for public office was in 1997, when he was elected to the Rio Rancho Governing Body.

Jack Thomas campaigning to be a state representative in 2010.

“It was about serving the older areas and making equity,” he said in the Observer then, naming his own Granada Hills neighborhood as a key benefactor. Thomas was also a big supporter for improvement projects, such as campus beautification and a playground for Shining Stars Preschool.

“Pre-kindergarten is extremely important to children’s learning and what they’re doing there with special-needs kids in the community,” he said at the time.

In 2001, he was elected to his first term as county commissioner, and then won re-election to a second four-year term in 2005. Patty Thomas also served on the Sandoval County Commission and Rio Rancho Governing Body.

Thomas had learned along the way, he said, that the county had more resources than the city. Using that logic, the state would have more resources than the county.

“The biggest difference was (the county commission) didn’t seem to be so politically motivated,” he said in a past Observer. “And we had more resources. We could do something in Rio Rancho, which helps the county get jobs. I’d look at the big picture.

“I found county government to be real rewarding,” Thomas said. “We didn’t look at it as Democrat or Republican value — we worked together.”

“Jack was a kick,” recalled former Rio Rancho Mayor Tom Swisstack. “Jack was an elected official that had the unique ability to speak directly on where he was coming from; he was honest and, at that time, unfiltered — but his comments always came from the heart and what he believed was in the best interests for our community and our county.”

Swisstack said when Thomas decided he wanted to be a state representative — indeed, for District 60, where Swisstack had served previously — “Jack and I would have conversations.”

As a legislator, Swisstack said, Thomas maintained independent thinking and kept in contact with his constituents.

“He was in a growing community that could use a lot of state help — infrastructure, programs for seniors, transportation; the other side of it would have economic incentives, because the state was always in a position to help with that,” Swisstack continued.

David Bency served with Thomas as a city councilor and county commissioner.

“What a fighter that man was,” Bency recalled. “He was tough, but would listen to reason and change his mind, which made him a valuable elected official.”

Swisstack said Thomas was an avid golfer who found comfort in the game.

“It was his way of getting away, releasing any tension he had,” Swisstack said.

Daniels Family Funerals and Cremation was in charge of the arrangements for Thomas, who was cremated per his wishes.

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Gary Herron | Observer staff writer