Ex-Alaska official, son of legendary broadcaster, dies at 92

Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska — Lowell Thomas Jr., a former Alaska lieutenant governor, author, adventurer, glacier pilot and son of the legendary broadcaster, has died.

His daughter, Anne Donaghy, confirmed his death Monday to The Associated Press. She said her father died Saturday at his home in Anchorage, Alaska, days shy of his 93rd birthday.

He was born in London on Oct. 6, 1923, to Lowell Jackson Thomas and Frances Ryan Thomas. His early childhood was spent in New York City, where his father had a nightly national radio broadcast.

He was a flight instructor during World War II, and flying and skiing became lifelong passions, according to his obituary. He and his wife, Tay, flew across the world and chronicled their work in articles and a book.

They visited Alaska in 1958, and fell in love with it, moving there two years later. Donaghy said in Alaska, her father found his own identity, outside the large shadows cast by his father — a World War I war correspondent whose time with Col. T.E. Lawrence was the basis for Thomas’ bestselling book “With Lawrence in Arabia.”

“He was so different from his father. But I think that, in all fairness, I think he would not mind me saying that that was part of why he came to Alaska. He and my Mom, they put some actual miles between themselves and their parents on the East Coast,” Donaghy said.

Thomas Jr.’s adventurous side drew him to Alaska, but he also believed in being a public servant, she said.

He made unsuccessful runs for U.S. House before winning election to the state Senate. He served as lieutenant governor under Gov. Jay Hammond from 1974 to 1978.

Thomas didn’t like running for office and wasn’t politically ambitious, but he was dedicated to the causes of conservation and protecting wild places, Donaghy said. After leaving office, he bought an air taxi business and did full-time glacier flying for a few years, shuttling climbers onto North America’s tallest peak, Denali, she said. “And he loved it,” she said.

Time spent in Tibet with his father in 1949 was formative, she said, with father and son committing to do what they could to generate support for the people and culture of Tibet. Thomas’ father used his national radio broadcasts to draw attention while Thomas wrote a book, ‘Out of This World,” and met numerous times with the Dalai Lama, according to his obituary.

Donaghy said she traveled to Tibet earlier this year and was happy to share her experiences and photos with her father.

Thomas had been in declining health, and in his last weeks was visited daily by friends and loved ones, Donaghy said.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 64 years. Thomas is survived by Donaghy, a son, David, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Thomas’ family plans a celebration of life next summer in Anchorage and suggests memorial gifts in Thomas’ name be sent to the Alaska Conservation Foundation or International Campaign for Tibet.

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