Grass Valley couple, on verge of 60th anniversary, digs into community
Special to The Union
Ed and Barbara Thomas aren’t sure which is a bigger accomplishment: helping save the planet from nuclear destruction or navigating a loving, mutually-supportive marriage for six decades.
These Super Seniors have done both.
Ed, 79, and Barbara, 78, will celebrate 60 years of marriage Aug. 14. It’s impressive what this Grass Valley couple has seen and done during that time.
They were ensconced in the anti-war movement of the 1980s. They’ve lived in the Netherlands — and 21 other places. They’ve backpacked through India, Japan and Nepal. They’ve been guests of the Prime Minister of Venezuela at his palace in Caracas.
And since moving to Nevada County 13 years ago, they have devoted their hearts, souls, and time to a variety of local charity and cultural causes.
“Grass Valley is the best place we have ever lived,” said Ed.
ROLLING UP THE SLEEVES
Ed has volunteered with Hospice of the Foothills for more than a decade, working in the areas of respite care, bereavement and dying vigils. He is chair of the oversight committee to monitor the use of Grass Valley’s Measure N sales tax funds, and he worked on the initiating group for both Grass Valley measures N and E. His involvement with the city also included four years with the Grass Valley Police Department, when he spent more than 2,000 hours on the volunteer beat.
He’s also on the advisory board of NEO, the youth-advocacy group that’s currently expanding its activities center.
“But my biggest contribution has been supporting my wife in her endeavors that are much more extensive than mine,” Ed said modestly.
Barbara, in turn, credits Ed’s help with her success as a volunteer.
“When you’re on a board, you’re trying to drive the organization to financial success and you receive all these documents,” said Barbara. “I don’t have a financial background, so with Ed’s CPA expertise, he’s always been able to help me decipher all those reports.”
Barbara recently termed off the board of the Center for the Arts after seven years, including three years as board president. She also served on the board of InConcert Sierra for three years. Barbara was vice president of the Center for Nonprofit Leadership board, and she’s back on the board of the Friendship Club after a short hiatus. Both Ed and Barbara have judged Senior Project presentations at Bear River High School for many years.
Ed is an associate member of the Nevada County Law Enforcement and Fire Protection Council. He was the council’s top-selling ticket peddler during a recent fundraiser, selling 150 of the $20 tickets eligible for a Hawaiian vacation.
“I have lots of good friends with big hearts,” said Ed.
“He’s a super salesman,” said Barbara. “He could teach a class on how to sell raffle tickets or tables for an event. It is about passion for whatever you’re supporting. If you don’t have that, you don’t ask people for donations.”
Before retirement, Ed’s career revolved around numbers. As a professional Certified Public Account, he operated his own CPA business as well as working with the renowned Arthur Andersen accounting firm.
Barbara’s initial foray into the business world was in nonprofit development, and later, communications and human resources.
“It was a time when President Reagan was developing his space-based strategic defense initiative program,” recalled Barbara. “I worked with a group of scientists and computer professionals formed around opposition to what was called ‘Star Wars’ back in the 1980s.”
FOLLOWING THEIR HEARTS
The couple, relaxing in the kitchen of their Morgan Ranch home, reflected on how deeply they became involved in the “Beyond War Foundation,” fighting the proliferation of nuclear weapons.
“It was about educating people,” said Barbara. “We shared the knowledge that we’ve got to stop going to war if the planet is going to survive.”
At its peak, the foundation had more than 500 people working full-time, without pay. Ten key states were targeted and 20 couples moved to those states to promulgate the movement’s message.
Ed and Barbara moved from the Bay Area to Iowa, where they helped educate presidential candidates campaigning in the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. They also visited news media outlets, service organizations, churches, corporations, college campuses and any other place they felt was ripe to hear the anti-war message.
They were called “Commies” – and worse. But they pressed on.
“We followed our hearts,” said Ed. “We got educated about the arms race and realized our planet would not survive a nuclear war. We put 80,000 miles on our car during those three years in Iowa.”
The Thomas’ group presented a prestigious award to the Venezuelan Prime Minister acknowledging his anti-war efforts. The Prime Minister then invited Ed and Barbara to visit him. They thought the invitation was a gracious formality – until they received in the mail first-class tickets to Caracas.
“We were interviewed on the Venezuelan equivalent of the ‘Today Show’ about the Beyond War movement and the arms race,” said Ed.
“We felt so purposeful,” said Barbara. “Our relationships were cooperative and collaborative.”
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Barbara and Ed said they have used that model of communication in every relationship they’ve had, including the various nonprofits they’ve served.
“It’s a concept and a value,” explained Barbara. “Whether it’s on a board, in a marriage, raising children or building any healthy relationship.”
“People change their minds while they’re talking, not while they’re listening,” added Ed.
“I ask you a question, and you start talking,” continued Barbara. “I listen. Then eventually you ask me my thoughts, and we begin to build agreement. We begin to have a dialogue that leads to compromise and understanding.”
“And that works from the individual level to the global scale,” said Ed.
For their 60th wedding anniversary, Ed and Barbara will celebrate with a series of get-togethers with friends, their daughter Debbie and son Royce, and their two grandchildren.
“It’s important to take time to realize how privileged we are to live here, have the friends we have, and be able to give back,” said Barbara.
“People and relationships are the most important thing in the world to us,” said Ed. “I feel blessed. Barbara and I could move tomorrow and go anywhere in the world, and in a short time, we’d be connected to the community. It’s because we love people.”
“We made a difference,” said Barbara.
Lorraine Jewett is a freelance writer who lives in Nevada County. To suggest a Super Senior feature story, contact her at LorraineJewettWrites@gmail.com.
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