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Margaret Thomas, philanthropist and civic leader, dies at age 87

Margaret S. Thomas, who helped manage her family's successful produce business, enjoyed bridge, traveling and Duke basketball and spent her retirement years supporting her church and community causes, died early Tuesday after a period of illness. She was 87.


Margaret Cecille Stonecipher was born on March 21, 1931, in the old Patton Hospital, to Blenda Latt Stonecipher, and Cecil Fullerton Stonecipher. Her maternal grandfather, Oscar Latt, founded the lumber yard and coal company at the railroad tracks on Whitted Street. Margaret Stonecipher graduated in the class of 1948 at Hendersonville High School and remained active in the Hendersonville High School Alumni Association as a loyal Bearcat. She graduated first in her class from Southern Seminary College in Virginia in 1950.

She was preceded in death by her husband of more than 46 years, Royce P. “Bo” Thomas, a Democratic state senator who died in a bicycle crash in Florida in 1997. She was also preceded in death by a sister, Mary Stonecipher Skinner Tichy, as well as her son-in-law, Stephen Vieira, husband of Mary Thomas Vierra and the brother of television news personality Meredith Vierra.

Margaret married Bo, the love of her life, in 1951 and lovingly reared their three children. Until her retirement in 2012, she worked as the chief financial officer for Thomas Brothers Produce Company, a packing house and produce broker that had interests here and in Arizona and Florida.

In civic life and volunteerism, she was an active member of the Hendersonville Lions Club and held several offices with PEO. A philanthropist in the community, she was a generous supporter of the Black Mountain Children's Home and Blue Ridge Community College. She was among a core group of Henderson County natives who led the successful effort to preserve the Historic Courthouse on Main Street. She was baptized in and was a lifelong member of Hendersonville First Presbyterian Church (PC-USA).

"She did so many things that she didn't even tell people about," her daughter, Mary Vieira, said.

She loved to play bridge with her favorite bridge partner, Nancy Wert, and loved ballroom dancing.

"She was a beautiful Southern lady, always gracious and encouraging," Wert said. "She was a loyal friend and always was there to encourage me and do everything she could for me." Like her husband, Margaret Thomas was a Democrat who supported the party and its candidates even as the party dwindled in influence in Henderson County. "I'm not a Democrat so I didn't know (much about her involvement). But I believe she was still very interested in politics and she kept up with everything. She was very active in her church. I knew her as a wonderful bridge partner and we were in the same PEO Club." Thomas was an active member of the PEO Chapter B in Hendersonville for more than 50 years.

"Everywhere I went with Margaret, there were always people who knew her and would stop to speak to her. She ad a wide circle of friends from all walks of life. I was honored to be one of her friends."

Thomas loved Duke basketball. She attended many games in Durham and traveled to tournaments and was a lifetime member of the Iron Dukes, the university athletic support group. She liked to socialize and welcomed visitors into her home — unless the Blue Devils were playing on television. She lived in a historic home on Fourth Avenue West, shaded by a gigantic sycamore in the front yard and adorned with American and North Carolina flags. She enjoyed traveling with two church friends, Bobbye Lucas and Eleanor Morrow, affectionately referred to as the “Golden Girls,” across America and traveled extensively abroad as well, visiting five different continents.

She is survived by her three children James Royce Thomas, Mary Thomas Vieira and Richard Latt Thomas and his wife, Sherry, and grandchildren Stephen Alexander Vieira; Weesie Vieira Thelen and husband Colby; Margaret Vieira Riach and husband Kyle; and Chapman Karlsson Thomas and wife Leanne. She is also survived by her cousin, John Latt, and his wife, Becky, as well as numerous members of the Thomas family.

A celebration of Margaret’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, at the Hendersonville Presbyterian Church with the Rev. Kathryn Cameron officiating. She will be laid to rest next to her beloved husband. The family will receive friends from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Thomas residence.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorial contributions for Margaret's lifelong church, First Presbyterian Church of Hendersonville. 816 4th Avenue West, Hendersonville, NC 28739. An online register book is available for family and friends by visiting Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors is in charge of the arrangements.