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This article is about the US Congressman. For the article on the French Socialist and First Director of the International Labour Organisation see Albert Thomas .

Albert Richard Thomas (April 12, 1898–February 15, 1966) was a Democratic Congressman from Houston, Texasmarker for 29 years and was responsible for bringing the Johnson Space Centermarker to Houston.

Early life

Thomas was born in Nacogdoches, Texasmarker on April 12, 1898 Lonnie (Langston) and James Thomas. He attended local schools, worked in his father’s store, and served as a Lieutenant in the United States Army during World War I before graduating from the Rice Institute and the University of Texas Law School. He married Lera Millard. Thomas was admitted to the bar in 1927, and he practiced law and served as Nacogdoches County Attorney before moving to Houston in 1930 to become Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.

Congressional career

When long-time congressman Joe H. Eagle did not seek reelection in 1936, so he could run for the United States Senate, Thomas sought and won the Democratic nomination, which was tantamount to election. In that primary, Thomas beat Houston Mayor Oscar F. Holcombe in what was something of an upset. The Eighth District of Texas at that time comprised all of Harris Countymarker, which includes the state's largest city, Houston.

President Kennedy shares a moment with U.S.
Rep.
Albert Thomas at the Houston dinner honoring the congressman on Nov.
21, 1963.
Photo by Houston Chronicle


In Congress, Thomas was a protégé of Texas Senator (later President) Lyndon B. Johnson but maintained a generally conservative voting record. In 1949, he became chairman of the House subcommittee on independent office appropriations. He also served on the subcommittee on defense appropriations and on the joint committee on Texas House delegation. He was a typical Southern Democrat who through seniority rose to be the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's, subcommittee on defense. In that capacity, he was able to steer projects to Texas including supporting Johnson's proposal to build the Corpus Christi Naval Air Stationmarker. Thomas also served on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy and was instrumental in securing the location of the United States National Aeronautics & Space Administrationmarker's Manned Spacecraft Center (later named after Lyndon Johnson) in Houston in 1961. Since its inception, Johnson Space Center has served as mission control for every U.S. manned space flight including Apollo 11, the first lunar landing. "Houston" became the first word addressed to earth from the moon, in reference to the Johnson Space Center mission control.

Thomas was one of the members of the Suite 8F Group, which included his college roommate at Rice University, George R. Brown. Brown's company Brown and Root donated the land on which the Johnson Space Center would be located to Rice University. Then-Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was chairman of the Space Council, and Thomas, a member of the NASA board, played leading roles in the eventual acceptance of Rice University's offer.

Appreciation dinner in 1963

In 1963, Thomas was seriously considering not running for a fifteenth term. Local Democrats organized an appreciation dinner on November 21, 1963 with over 3200 attendees to persuade him to run for another term. The most visible attendees were President John F. Kennedy and Vice-President Johnson who both spoke of Thomas's leadership. Kennedy said, "Next month, when the U.S. fires the world's biggest booster, lifting the heaviest payroll into...that is, payload..." here the President paused a second and grinned. "It will be the heaviest payroll, too," he quipped. The crowd roared. "The firing of that shot will give us the lead in space," the President resumed in a serious vein. "And our leadership in space could not have been achieved without Congressman Albert Thomas."

Thomas accompanied the Presidential party as it traveled to Dallas, where the next day President Kennedy was assassinatedmarker. He witnessed the swearing in of President Lyndon Baines Johnson on Air Force One.
Thomas (with bow tie) at the swearing in of President Lyndon Baines Johnson


In 1964, Thomas was named Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

By the time of his death on February 15, 1966, at the age of 67, Thomas ranked eleventh in seniority in the House. The voters of Harris County elected his wife Lera to complete his term. Some time after he died, Houston's Albert Thomas Convention and Exhibit Center was named in his honor. He is interred in Houston National Cemeterymarker.

Notes

  1. Great Houstonians
  2. Archie P. McDonald, All Things Historical, November, 2004
  3. Transcript, Mrs. Albert (Lera) Thomas Oral History Interview I, 10/11/69, by David G. McComb, Internet Copy, LBJ Library. [1]
  4. Chaikin, Andrew. A Man on the Moon. New York: Penguin Books, 1994.
  5. Robert Bryce, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate (PublicAffairs, 2004)
  6. Rice Historical Society
  7. Redding, Stan and Mansell, Walter, Houston Chronicle, November 22, 1963


References

  • Transcript, Mrs. Albert (Lera) Thomas Oral History Interview I, 10/11/69, by David G. McComb, Internet Copy, LBJ Library. [525279]
  • Bryce, Robert, Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate (PublicAffairs, 2004).



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