Richard Thomas (Canadian politician)

Richard Thomas (Canadian politician)

Richard Malcolm Thomas (February 4 1932-February 22, 2006) was a Canadian actor, broadcaster, environmentalist and politician. "He introduced me to modern literature, poetry, to (Carl) Jung and the Russians like Dostoevsky and all kinds of music, both classical and folk — Fred Neil, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Bach," recalled Patrick Corrigan, one of Thomas' long time friends. [] He was a longtime columnist for the "Almaguin News".

Early life and education

Born in Toronto, Thomas attended Huron St. Public School and Jarvis Collegiate Institute, dropping out after grade 10. He was a lifelong autodidact however. He left home at the age of 17 and moved to Barrie where he received his first broadcasting job at radio station CKBB.


He moved to Vancouver two years later and met his future wife at CJOR radio. The two travelled together to California and then returned to Canada where Thomas found a string of broadcasting jobs in Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa and Peterborough. He eventually found himself back in Toronto driving taxi when, one day, he picked up Ted Rogers as a passenger. Rogers and Thomas had attended the same summer camp as children and Thomas had once rescued Rogers from drowning. By the mid 1960s, when Rogers found himself in the back of Thomas' cab, Rogers was building a broadcasting empire. He hired Thomas to work on the air at CHFI as the new FM station's morning host and news reader.

Narration work

Thomas' CHFI job led to a career narrating commercials as well as television and film documentaries. By 1967, Thomas was able to buy land in Kearney, near Algonquin Park and support himself by commuting to Toronto for voice over work. Thomas' voice could be heard throughout the 1970s on commercials for GM cars and Taster's Choice coffee as well as for his appearances in Cracker Barrel cheese's television ads. A commanding speaker, he attained further fame through a memorable vocal part in a television commercial for Canada Packers as the bacon loving "Gentle Ben" and has provided voice-over narration for a number of programs such as the early 1980s TV Ontario technology series "Fast Forward". He narrated numerous nature films for the National Film Board of Canada and educational films for director Budge Crawley.

Alcohol laws violation

Though a "tee-totaller", Thomas made national news in 1980 by breaking Canada's bootlegging laws in order to make alcohol as environmentally friendly fuel for his converted Volvo. He was subsequently charged in October 1980 with bootlegging, but was vindicated in February 1981 when the government dropped the charges rather than prosecute the environmentalist.


Thomas entered politics as a candidate for the Ontario Liberal Party in the 1981 provincial election, losing in the riding of Parry Sound by only six votes to Progressive Conservative newcomer Ernie Eves. Though he had never been elected to public office, he surprised the 1982 Ontario Liberal Party leadership convention by placing a credible third on the first ballot, coming ahead of two veteran Members of Provincial Parliament (MPPs) by running on a strong environmentalist platform. He ran for the Liberal Party again in the 1985 provincial election, and this time lost to Eves by 1,440 votes.

In 1984, some members of the newly-formed Green Party of Canada wanted to draft Thomas as their first leader. This plan was abandoned due to the party's egalitarianism in this period -- having a "celebrity" as leader would have nullified their intentions on this front.

Thomas eventually did leave the Liberals for the Green Party, however, and was the star candidate of the Green Party of Ontario in the 1990 provincial election. Once again running in Parry Sound, he placed a strong third with 17% of the vote, ahead of the New Democratic Party's 13% despite the fact that the NDP swept the rest of the province that year.

In the federal election of 2000, Thomas ran in Parry Sound—Muskoka for the Green Party and received 1495 votes, finishing in fifth place.

He remained active in the provincial Green Party, running under its banner again in a 2001 by-election in Parry Sound—Muskoka. This by-election was held when the sitting MPP, provincial treasurer Ernie Eves, resigned. Thomas garnered 12% of the vote for the Greens, once again placing ahead of the NDP candidate.

In the 2003 Ontario municipal elections, Thomas was elected reeve of Armour Township in the Parry Sound District. []

Accident and death

Thomas was hit by a tractor trailer on December 27, 2005 while making a turn from Highway 11 into Burk's Falls around 9:30 am. He suffered severe injuries, but made some progress towards recovery including four major successful surgeries. On February 19, 2006, he choked in the night and suffered a massive stroke and heart attack, which caused major irreversible brain damage. His family decided to remove him from life support.

He lived three more days, and quietly and peacefully in the company of his wife Jenny, at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital. []

External links

* [ From hippie to politico, Thomas did it all] by Judy Stoffman, "Toronto Star", Apr. 8, 2006.

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