Celebrator of the Unsung, Curator of the Breathless

Robert McGill Thomas Jr., an American journalist for the New York Times, was 60 when he died on January 7, 2000 in his summer home in Rehoboth Beach, Del. His wife, Joan, confirmed that the cause was abdominal cancer.

Before writing obituaries full time in 1995, Thomas wrote as a police reporter, a rewrite man, a society news reporter, and a sports writer.

Thomas’ obituaries, otherwise known as “McGs”, “celebrated the unsung, the queer, the unpretentious, the low rent.” He was fond of writing about people who became legendary as a result of a single exploit, and his approach looked for telling details that illuminated those that might otherwise have been overlooked or underreported and featured memorable tales that just happened to define a life.

“For the last half of the 1990s, readers of the New York Times could be excused if they searched out Thomas’s work before they bothered with the front-page lead,” the author of a starred Kirkus Reviews wrote. And The Times began Thomas’ Pulitzer Prize nomination with, “Every week, readers write to The New York Times to say they were moved to tears or laughter by an obituary of someone they hadn’t known until that morning’s paper.” Interestingly enough neither did Robert McG. Thomas until that morning.

According to the New York Times, the week before his death, he officiated at his annual New Year’s Eve party at the family home in Shelbyville. Continuing a tradition of 32 years, he cheered his guests and the new century. He expressed his hopes as he had in years before that the fireworks he ordered did not set fire to the Presbyterian church across the way in their celebration of a new millennium.

Along with his wife, their twin sons, Andrew, of Lewes, Delaware, and David, of Manhattan, a sister, Carey Gates Thomas Hines of Birmingham, Alabama, and two grandchildren survive Mr. Thomas

 

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