The North Texan, Volume 39, Number 3, Summer 1989 Page: 4
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James Weldon Thomas
acquainted with opportunity
By Scott Andrews
If James Weldon Thomas, who was honored as a Dis-
tinguished Alumnus in April, has any secrets to his
success they are preparation and personality.
Preparation: through careful planning and forward
thinking, Thomas has many times been ready to act
when opportupity knocked, and opportunity has knocked
many iingp n his life.
Fort le, the music lessons he took as a child in
Gainesille eventually paid for his college education,
since Thomas spent four years at North Texas playing
trumpet in Floyd Graham's stage bands. And his summer
course in auto mechanics made it possible to repair the
Model T Ford he bought in 1926 for $10 - two seats,
no top and the bearings went out while driving it home
for the first time.
Personality: his friendly demeanor and impeccable
manners have endeared him to personal friends and pow-
erful business associates throughout his life.
"I knew the right people," he said in modestly sum-
ming up many of his successes. But it takes more than
knowing the right people; the right people have to like
Those two traits have served Thomas well, leading
him from Gainesville as the son of a Baptist minister to
Mexico and South America as a corporate executive and,
finally, back to Texas (in semi-retirement) as honorary
consul for South Korea in Dallas.
Thomas came to North Texas in 1926 and spent the
next four years playing in Floyd Graham's stage bands,
paying for his tuition and expenses. And earning enough
to buy a new Model A Ford for about $800 in 1929. "It
was big enough to take a four- or five-piece band to a
When his horn wasn't earning money, it was often
earning a meal. During college Thomas played in a
small group for the weekly luncheons of the Lions, Ki-
wanis and Rotary clubs. "I got three good meals each
week." And he played Sunday evenings at the Manhattan
Cafe in downtown Denton.
"It was a great, great life," he said of his college
Although he received an English degree in May 1929,
Thomas wasn't sure What he wanted for a career.
Medicine looked promising, so he enrolled at Baylor
Medical College in September 1929.
"I discovered to my horror that I was studying until 2
or 3 a.m. each night," he said. His horn was his liveli-
hood, but studying all night gave him no time to play.
"I reached the point where I was going to starve to
He returned to North Texas and took a degree in math
in 1930, but still wasn't sure what career to pursue. He
even took some graduate courses at The University of
Texas at Austin, but found himself again strapped for
cash and he returned to Denton.
By that time, Thomas was seriously involved with a
North Texas co-ed, Isabel Edwards, daughter of the
founder of the Denton Record-Chronicle..jrt father was
concerned about Thomas' lack of direction and suggested
(perhaps strongly) that Thomas see a friend of his in
Dallas about a job opening.
"Boy, I made tracks for that place," Thomas said.
That place turned out to be the new offices of Geo-
physical Service Inc., a pioneer in the science of reflec-
tion seismography-the process of locating petroleum
deposits by examining the shock-wave reflections of un-
derground formations. Dynamite was exploded above a
suspected formation and instruments recorded the result-
ing vibrations, a sort of underground sonar.
Thomas was hired on the spot for $150 a month and
was sent with one of GSI's first crews to West Texas.
He was a trainee on the crew - drilled holes, planted
charges, computed the results - and in 1934 became a
party chief of a crew of his own.
It was an exciting time for a young man. He was in-
volved in a new field for a company that was expanding
rapidly when most of the country was staggering
through the Depression.
"This was a brand new process. No one else was do-
ing this in 1930," he said.
"We had some trouble getting good people, we were
expanding so fast." Assigned on a second crew in
September 1930, Thomas went to his father for help.
"He taught a Sunday school class full of men who
needed jobs, so we picked out eight of his best men."
By 1939 Thomas was supervisor of GSI's crews in
the Houston and Gulf Coast area, and in 1943 he was
sent to Mexico City to initiate the company's operations
there. In 1950, GSI was divided into three regional
companies and Thomas was named president of GSI
Latin America, overseeing operations in Mexico and
During World War II, GSI was a prime contractor of
electronic equipment for the U.S. government and those
operations continued to grow after the war. In fact, the
electronic manufacturing operation eventually grew
larger than GSI's seismic services and GSI changed its
name in 1950 to Texas Instruments Inc. GSI then
became a wholly owned subsidiary of its once smaller
creation. It was divided into three regional companies and
f James Weldon Thomas, who
was honored as a Distinguished
Alumnus in April, has any
secrets to his success they are
preparation and personality.
Thomas was named president of GSI Latin America,
overseeing operations in Mexico and South America.
In 1952 one of Ti's major partners retired and Thomas
was offered the chance to buy a portion of the company,
which he did. Texas Instruments went on to develop the
first transistor radio and the first integrated circuit, and
today is one of the world's largest makers of
He returned to Dallas in 1957 as a vice president in
the GSI home office and retired from the company in
1960 to direct his private investments.
Thomas' years in Mexico City proved to be some of
his most fruitful, in terms of the friendships he formed,
the business projects he entered and the good he did for
"The Americans down there had a tendency to get to-
gether," he said.
Those Americans, including Thomas, got together in
the '50s and built themselves a church, the Union Evan-
gelical Church, and then a university, the University of
the Americas. Thomas was on the fund-raising
committee for the university's founding. They raised
about $10 million.
He also served as a member and president of the Sal-
vation Army advisory board while in Mexico City.
The Masons were very active in Mexico and Thomas
served as potentate, master, grand master and 33 degree
Scottish Rite, an honorary position, in Mexico City. A
large cabinet in his North Dallas home is filled with
Masonic regalia and mementos from his years in Mexico
But his friendships weren't limited to Americans. His
many activities led to connections in the upper levels of
government and business in Mexico.
His Mexican connections led to a wide range of in-
James Weldon Thomas
vestments there, including a turkey farm, a brewery, a
restaurant and a golf course.
And his years in Mexico led to some service in the
United States. In 1969 he was appointed by Gov.
Preston Smith to the Good Neighbor Commission to
help smooth relations between Texas and Mexico. In
1971 he was elected chairman of the commission.
It was at a Good Neighbor function in 1972 that
Thomas met officials from South Korea. They were im-
pressed with him and quickly asked him to become their
honorary consul in Dallas. "I got roped and hog-tied
His charitable projects in the United States have
eluded the Presbyterian Pan American School
Kingsville, of which he is a trustee, and the Wycliffe
Bible Translators. He's also a donor and founder of the
Thomas-Edwards Fund of the Communities Foundation
of Texas and was a trustee of the Texas Presbyterian
Foundation, serving a six-year term.
While not all of his projects have proved equally
profitable - though it can't be said he's had any true
failures - his planning and preparation couldn't save
one of his schemes: his elopement.
He and Isabel planned to marry when she graduated
from North Texas. But on Aug. 23, 1930, that seemed
to be taking longer than expected, so they decided to get
married and keep it a secret.
"We were going to fool everybody. She was going to
go back to school and we'd see each other when we
could," Thomas said.
They joined some friends who were getting married in
Oklahoma, and tied the knot in a little town north of
Ardmore (about 70 miles north of Denton). They figured
that was far enough away from Denton to keep Isabel's
parents from hearing of the nuptials.
Unfortunately, the Record-Chronicle had a stringer in
Oklahoma who watched the local papers for news about
"There we were, standing out like a sore thumb," he
said. "She called me and said 'You've got to come and
get me.' So I went down on Saturday to face the music."
The music proved ultimately to be a sweet tune. He
and Isabelle had three children and remained together un-
til her death in 1968.
At 80, Thomas now lives in North Dallas with his
second wife of 20 years, Bess, in a tastefully decorated
home, surrounded by the signs of his life. Music is still
important to him - he has two organs and a piano.
"I can't imagine where I found all the time to do the
things I did," he said.
"I took the days as they came. If the opportunities
came up and I was interested in them I got involved," he
said. "I have no complaints."
University of North Texas Summer
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University of North Texas. The North Texan, Volume 39, Number 3, Summer 1989, periodical, Summer 1989; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc119053/m1/4/: accessed May 1, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting University Relations, Communications & Marketing department for UNT.