Editor’s note: Final article in a series this month celebrating Black History by honoring difference-makers in the community.
The Rev. Dr. Theodore Thomas III spends time with a lot of patients at his dental office. But when he’s away from the building, the local leader continues to work by helping his community.
Thomas grew up in Hartsville, S.C. and attended Butler High School. He later earned a football scholarship to North Carolina Central University in Durham, where he earned a bachelor’s in biology. Next, he attended Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn and obtained his doctorate in dental. His path towards the career began in his hometown after he was inspired by a black dentist in his neighborhood.
“I always liked to talk to him,” Thomas said. “That kind of drew me to the dental field.”
Both of his parents Rev. Theodore Thomas Jr. and Lovis Thomas were teachers, but Thomas didn’t want to become an educator. After leaving medical school he went to Oxford, N.C. to work at a public health clinic for three weeks. He was later contacted by the U.S. Navy to practice dentistry.
“Fresh out of dental school, you’re kind of slow,” Thomas said. “You know the basics and working in a clinic, by myself, I didn’t feel comfortable.”
After joining, he was sent to Camp Lejune, a Marine Corps Base in Jacksonville and became a dental officer. Following his service, Thomas wanted to stay in the state and started looking around the eastern region. His original plan was to settle in Washington, N.C., but he discovered an opportunity in Clinton. After meeting with several professionals, he arrived in a recently constructed office on McCoy Street.
“I ended up coming to Clinton and not knowing anyone here,” Thomas said about arriving in the 1980s with his wife Janice and their children, Torrence and Christopher.
But he made a lot of friends during his time here. As a resident of Clinton, Thomas enjoys giving back through community involvement. It’s something he learned from his parents, who were active back in his South Carolina hometown. Some of his involvement includes serving as the board president for United Way of Sampson County; president of the Clinton-Sampson Chamber of Commerce; vice chair of the Emergency Food and Shelter of Sampson County; chair of the Sampson County Democratic Party; and chairman of the Sampson County Health Board.
“I made my rounds, but I’ve always enjoyed it,” Thomas said.
Now, he’s currently serving as the Board of Trustees for Sampson Community College and the NAACP. Thomas also serves as the chapter chaplain for Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.
“I like working with people and I like working on different things,” Thomas said. “I believe in making a footprint or making something better wherever you live.”
Now that his children are grown, Thomas spends about four days at the office.
“Once you get your children out of school the pressure is relieved some,” he said about continuing the joy of practicing dentistry.
Thomas currently resides in the areas with his wife Janice of 41 years. Their son Torrence Thomas is the Head Verger at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington and Christopher Thomas is involved with information technology work at a hospital in Charlotte. Theodore and Janice are the grandparents of Liam Grayson.
Through faith, Rev. Thomas also helps people as the leader of the First Missionary Baptist Church in Warsaw. Prior to his selection in 2009, he served as the Second Vice Moderator of Kenansville Eastern Missionary Baptist Association from 2011 through 2015. Thomas also spent time at Andrews Chapel Missionary Baptist Church in Clinton from 2006 to 2009. He studied the gospel by taking divinity courses at Shaw University. He put aside a life in politics to spread the word of God.
“I didn’t start out with the intentions to become a reverend or a pastor,” Thomas said. “My father and my grandfather was a pastor. The Lord worked on me. I said that I’ll go to divinity school, but I’m not going to be a pastor.”
Thomas put off the calling as long as he could, but eventually, he ended up behind a church pulpit.
“The Lord kept working on me and kept saying ‘this is what I want you to do,’” Thomas said.
After taking heed, Thomas started a journey in pastoral work inside and outside the church. During the Dr. Martin Luther King celebration, Thomas is known to provide thrilling sermons about unity and King’s legacy. He was a founder for the Multicultural Business Committee, which oversees the birthday celebration for the Civil Rights leader. The goal was to get more African-Americans involved in the chamber.
“That’s one of the things that I’m proud of that really took form and it’s still going,” Thomas said. “We’re looking for people to come in and carry the ball. We’ve been carrying it for 18 years and all of us are getting up in age.”
When it comes to being a member of the Clinton community, Thomas said he’ll do it all over again if he could. Some of those memories include raising his children, overcoming challenges and becoming a private pilot.
“It’s just a blessing that God placed me and that I was able to do the things that I’ve been able to do.”
Reach Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.