People say that death comes in threes. Recently Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul and Senator John McCain, an American Hero passed away. The third person in that group was a Culver City hero. His name was Ollie Thomas. He was not as famous as Franklin and McCain, but to the current and former students along with faculty members at Culver City High School, he was legendary.
Thomas, who died of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 15, was part of the Culver City High School family for more than 30 years, as an art and photo teacher and coach. “Everyone is special in their own way,” said Culver City girls’ head track and field coach Rayfield Beaton.
A recent retiree from the high school, Thomas left a lasting impression on hundreds of people. “His relationship with me is what made him special to me. In life there are people that you know, there are people that care about you, there are people who understand you but a friend is a person that will do all of those things and Ollie Thomas was that kind of person,” said Beaton.
He was not only a photography and art teacher, but Thomas was also a football and track and field coach at Culver City High School for the past 30 years. “A lot of his ex-players and students came to his funeral to talk about how much he meant to them,” said Culver City Athletic Director Tom Salter. “He coached and he listened to his students and they knew they always had a place to go if they had a problem in school and also in life.”
Salter continued to say, “He was someone you could go to for good advice. You never saw him lose his temper. It was never about him, it was always about his students. If you were having a bad day you could go to Ollie and he would make his students feel better.”
Thomas, who graduated from UCLA, was one of the first Black full-time teachers at CCHS and a lot of black students looked up to him. “He was an example for all students but especially for the black students,” said security officer and football coach Cornell Myles, who started working with Thomas in 1993. “He helped so many students discover their potential and if anybody needed help Ollie was there to help them.”
If there was any person that benefitted from Thomas’ guidance and insight it was current Culver City High School physical education teacher and football and track coach Jahmal Wright. “I first met Coach Thomas in the spring of my freshman year in 1992. In the 10th grade, I was in his photo class and in my senior year I was his teachers’ assistant. I had contact with Mr. Thomas almost every day of my high school career.”
Wright reconnected with Thomas after he graduated from college. “When I came back to Culver City to teach and coach he advised me as a co-worker and coach. He was a mentor that was instrumental in my life since I was 14 years old. He gave me a lot of advice, wisdom, and knowledge.”
Wright hopes that 30 years from now people will still remember Ollie Thomas. “He was a team player. He was all about the young people and I am going to make sure everyone at Culver City high school knows high much he meant to the school.”
This year Culver City High School will start The Ollie Thomas Memorial Scholarship that will be presented to a graduating senior. If you would like to donate to the Thomas Scholarship Fund, contact Culver City Athletic Director Tom Salter at 310-842-4200, ext. 6060.