Obituary: Duane Marshall Thomas

Grandfather, actor, singer, court commissioner, US Army officer

Duane Marshall Thomas, loving husband, father and grandfather, died from a stroke Wednesday, November 22, 2017. He was 87.  

He was born, June 11, 1930 to Clarence Lamar Thomas and Mildred Marshall Thomas, in Boise, Idaho. He graduated from Boise High School in 1948. He was the school’s starting quarterback, and greatly surprised his coach when he gave up football for music and theater.

Mr. Thomas attended Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut, on a full scholarship, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1952. He worked his way through school as a waiter in the Yale Dining Hall. He was in the Yale Glee Club, and in his junior year he was a member of the Spizwinks, when he was tapped to sing baritone with the acclaimed senior Yale singing group, the Whiffenpoofs. He was well known over the years for his solo performance of “Bermuda Buggy Ride,” and was often asked to sing it at concerts decades later. 

After college, Mr. Thomas enlisted as an officer in the US Army Counterintelligence Corps, where he served from 1953 to 1956. After his military duty, he completed a Latter-Day Saints mission in the British Isles from 1958 to 1960. Following his mission work, he worked for Howard Hughes while attending the University of Southern California law school, where he received his juris doctorate in 1962. After practicing law for several years, he accepted the position of San Bernardino County Superior Court Commissioner, with the belief that he could do more good as a family court and juvenile judge than as a practicing attorney.  

He married Joy Black in 1964, and adopted her sons, Matt and David. The couple had two more children, Kirsten and Tiffany, and adopted a third son, Ben, before divorcing in 1971. Mr. Thomas married Dyann Thomas in 1992, and subsequently adopted her son, Aaron Thomas.  

Throughout his working years he never gave up his love for music and theater. One of his first roles in Southern California theater was as Judd Fry in Oklahoma, where he was so convincing that a young boy pointed to Mr. Thomas’ picture during intermission and commented to his mother, “I hate him. He’s mean.”

Many will remember him in his leading roles at The Gallery Theater, in Ontario, California, and The Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont. Some of his favorites were Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof, Daddy Warbucks from Annie, Emile De Becque from South Pacific and Morrie from Tuesdays with Morrie.

Mr. Thomas volunteered his time in many ways with his two favorite charities; He committed his beautiful voice to recorded readings for the blind and dyslexic. He was an avid painter, and expressed his love of art by donating his time and expertise to the Associated Artists of the Inland Empire. As an active board member, he participated in monthly artist demonstrations and helped organize Associated Artist’s annual art show.

He will be remembered for his love of theater, his passion for watercolor painting, and wonderful baritone singing voice, his family shared. “Most of all, we will remember him for the warm and loving heart he gave to us all.”

Mr. Thomas was preceded in death by his sister, Donna Pearson; his brother, Jim Thomas; and his son, Ben Thomas.

He is survived by his loving wife Dyann Thomas; his five children, Kirsten Huddleston, Tiffany Yoast, Matt Ellingson, David Thomas and Aaron Thomas; and his grandchildren. 

A celebration of Mr. Thomas’ life will be held at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, December 12, at Padua Hills Theatre, 4465 Padua Ave., Claremont.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Duane Thomas Summer Camp for Children at the Inland Valley Repertory Theatre, at, or to the Duane Thomas Memorial Award at the Associated Artists of the Inland Empire, at Flowers may be delivered to Padua Hills Theater.


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