Residence: Cedar Rapids, IA
Deceased: February 16, 2014
I was very sorry to hear of Bill’s passing. He was one of my best friends our first two years — he left Carleton after our 2nd year. A great guy to drink beer with in the middle of the frozen Cannon River. I always thought I’d look him up passing through Cedar Rapids, Iowa where he was a judge.
Pete Schwei ’67
William L. Thomas, 68, died after a long, and for the most part peaceful coexistence with colon cancer. At last, cancer did what it does, and Bill died on February 16, 2014.
Bill was born on July 21, 1945, in Pierre, South Dakota, the son of Her and Lela (Shanks) Thomas. His parents divorced in 1947. Bill graduated from Theodore F. Riggs High School in 1963. He then graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1967, and the University of Iowa, College of Law in 1973.
Bill met Julianne Thomas in seventh grade, and they became best friends during high school. They participated in plays and were often debate partners. They went their separate ways during college, but remained in contact. Bill finally had the good sense to fall in love with his best friend and they were married on June 12, 1971, in Pierre, South Dakota, six days after Julie graduated from the University of Nebraska College of Medicine, and nine days before she began her pediatric residency at the University of Iowa. At the completion of her residency in 1974, she and Bill moved to Cedar Rapids, where they have lived and worked since.
Bill began private law practice as an associate of Lew Eells and then became an assistant Linn County Attorney Gene Kopecky. In 1979 he resumed private practice with the firm of Crawford, Sullivan, Read and Roermerman. In 1981 he was appointed Judge in the Sixth Judicial District, where he served until the end of 2006, when he retired and took senior status. He served as a Senior District Court Judge until January 16, 2014, when he fully retired.
Early in his tenure as judge, Bill concluded that many lawsuits, especially family cases, did not involve serious disputes about the law, but involved major personal conflict between the parties. In attempting to find a better way to resolve these disputes, he took both civil and family mediation training at the National Judicial College. He was then instrumental in the development of the Sixth Judicial District Family Mediation program, which began in 1996.
He served on the Board of Directors of the Iowa Peace Institute in Grinnell, the National Board of the Academy of Family Mediators, which merged with other dispute resolution organizations and became the Association for Conflict Resolution. He was then on the National Family Council for the ACR, and the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Study of Conflict Transformation. He served as chair of the Sixth Judicial District’s Mediation Advisory Committee from his inception until late 2013.
In 2002, he discovered kayaking, and became seriously hooked. He did brief training programs in San Diego, Washington D.C. and then a week long program at the Kayak Academy in Seattle in 2005, during which he celebrated his 60th birthday with the other participants and the appropriate amount of champagne, while camped on an island in Puget Sound. He was fortunate to paddle also in Alaska, Lake Michigan, Lake George in upstate New York, the Florida Everglades, where he had lunch with alligators. He did three Great River Rumbles in 2006-08, each a week-long trip on a tributary of the Mississippi and the great river itself. He paddled a variety of rivers and lakes in Iowa and surrounding states. The best trip however, was a ten day catamaran and kayak trip in the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador in 2007.
He was predeceased by his parents, his elder brother John, three aunts and two glorious golden retrievers. He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Dr. Julianne Thomas. Bill will be remembered for his humor, wisdom and love.