By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
Judith Thomas has proven herself a vital resource to the military surviving spouse community. She gives presentations about taking care of your spouse before you die. She provides advice to members of two Agent Orange-related Facebook groups. She writes monthly newsletter articles for the Houston Area Chapter of MOAA, of which she is surviving spouse liaison. And she works one-on-one with surviving spouses to help navigate paperwork and benefits following the death of their military spouse.
For her efforts, Thomas is a 2022 recipient of MOAA’s Surviving Spouse Liaison Excellence Award.
“It’s very humbling,” she said of receiving the award. “I think about the people who have mentored me over the years and have worked with me, and each gave me pearls of wisdom. … I’m grateful for it.”
In addition to the Houston Chapter, Thomas is a member of MOAA’s Surviving Spouse Virtual Chapter, a member of the Del Webb Sweetgrass Veterans’ Club, the treasurer of auxiliary chapter 233 of the DAV, a member of the Society of Military Widows, a member of the US Wives and Widow Warriors of Agent Orange Facebook Club, and a member of the Vietnam War Commemoration Commission. As a commemorative partner of the commission, Thomas has personally “pinned” over 300 Vietnam War-era veterans with the commemorative lapel pin. She also has been the surviving spouse recognition coordinator for the Society of Military Widows since 2019 and has mailed nearly 4,000 certificates of honor and surviving spouse lapel pins provided by the Vietnam War Commission.
Her husband, Lt. Gen. Billy Thomas, USA (Ret), served two tours in Vietnam. He died in 2016 from cancer caused by Agent Orange exposure.
When she joined the Houston Chapter a few years later, Thomas said it continued her connection to the military.
“The military has basically been my whole live. I’m the daughter, wife, and mother of soldiers,” she said.
Giving back also has long been a part of her life, and something that was engrained in her as a child. In addition to her father’s military service, her mother served on the local PTA and then moved up to boards at the city and state levels.
“All of us were taught that you give back,” Thomas said. “I have been able to give back, mostly through military organizations.”
One of the ways she did so was working on the paid staff of the Army Family Liaison Office when her husband was still serving in the Army.
“I was privileged to be involved in places to help [military families] and be involved in the decision making,” she said. “When you learn things, you’re supposed to share them.”
That’s one of the reasons she continues to give back, especially to surviving spouses.
“I strongly feel that whatever community you’re in, you have a responsibility to make that community better,” she said. “Surviving spouses brings in a different perspective and a sense of community to MOAA chapters. … There’s a line from a song, ‘I will pass this way but once. If there's any good that I can do, let me do it now.’ That has guided some of what I do.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.