Farewell To A Dear Friend | News
Joel Thomas' official title at the Erie County SPCA was 'Wildlife Administrator and Veterinary Technician', a long title to be sure. But as titles so often do, it fails to even come close to describing Joel as a person.
He was a true renaissance man. Musician, environmentalist, author, husband and father. It seemed to those who knew him, Joel could do it all. And although he left us at far too early an age, his spirit will live on with the many people whose lives he touched.
Gina Browning was a close friend who worked with Joel for almost 20 years at the Erie County SPCA.
"He had a wonderful church family, his daughter, his wife, his son, he had an amazing family life too," says Browning. "Then you look at professionally here at the SPCA, all that he did. It wasn't just a job, all that he did to impact the lives of people, and especially the lives of wildlife here."
Matt Zymanek of Hawk Creek Wildlife Center was Joel's friend and also his Apprentice Falconer.
"At the memorial people pointed out about how often he would just sit and let you spill your guts, and then he would come up with the right answer," says Zymanek. "He was like that, he loved animals and he was great with people. Most people get into the animal field because they don't want to deal with people, and he was one of the people who took both in stride."
Joel's sense of humor was one of his most remarkable traits, and as it was with all of his life, it was a gift he used to teach others.
"His sense of humor...that was another personality trait of Joel's that was so contagious," says Browning. "He just taught us not to take things too seriously."
"He had a great sense of humor," says Zymanek. "He would just tell crazy stories, out of anything, he was an incredible storyteller. He would share his experiences, but twist them around so it was in the form of a story. And he always, always came up with crazy voices to match the characters."
Perhaps Joel will be remembered most for his passion. It seemed to pervade everything he did, and he was one of those rare people that could transform others through the depth of that passion.
"There was something about Joel, even if you never met him. If you saw an interview on TV or you heard him on the radio, his passion was contagious," says Browning. "It literally jumped off the screen or came through the radio waves. You'd become passionate because his passion was so contagious, he was like that."
For those of us fortunate enough to have known Joel Thomas, there is sadness at his passing. But it would certainly not pay him proper tribute to mourn too long.
It would be more in keeping with who he was to celebrate instead. A rich and beautiful life that will always live on, that life an amazing legacy left behind for those who survive him.
"He wanted to teach people and wanted to make sure that his work and everything he's done wasn't lost," says Zymanek. "He wrote a great book about living with animals and living with nature, and that was a great way for him to get his story out and teach people how to coexist with nature. With a lot of us in the wildlife field, he spent a lot of time talking to us and making sure that we were already to go on the next route without him. That was very important to him."
Browning says he'll always be with us.
"Painfully, we're aware that he's gone physically, but he's here...he's so much a part of the SPCA, he's so much a part of wildlife in this community. He's not gone, he'll never be gone."