James Louis Thomas
(September 5, 1894-1972)
Acknowledgement: Special thanks to Margot Ashley, Polly Waterfield and Carole Tenney Boster for photos and information about the Thomas Family.
James Louis Thomas was born September 5, 1894 in Kenova, Wayne County, West Virginia to John Barnett (1863—?) and Sarah Frances Rice (1862–1952) Thomas. Other children in the family were Howard Rice (b. Montvale, VA. July 12, 1887—June 30, 1967), Annie Maude (b. August 13, 1885, Pulaski,VA—1965), Harry Morton (b. Nov. 23, 1890, Pulaski County, VA—d. May 1, 1935, Austin, TX, running a news stand at time of death), William Giles (b. Feb. 25, 1892, Pulaski, VA—d. Oct. 4, 1968, N. Richland Hills, Tarrant, TX), Katherine Elizabeth (1897–1989), and Mary Virginia (1900–93). The family is shown in the picture below kindly shared by Carole Tenney Boster, granddaughter of James L. Thomas.
Back row, L-R: John Barnett Thomas (father), Howard Rice, Annie Maude, Sarah Frances “Fannie” (mother) with baby Katherine Elizabeth; Front row, L-R: Harry Morton, James Louis, and William Giles, ca. 1897. Daughter, Mary Virginia, not born yet.
James Louis’ father, John Barnett Thomas, was born in Botetourt County, VA. James Louis’ mother, Sarah Francis “Fannie” Rice, was born May 15, 1869 in New London Academy, VA. In a passport applications submitted by Sarah and son, Howard, both recorded that they had lived from 1904 to 1906 in Mexico. Howard listed Cuernavaca, Mexico, May 1904May 1905 and Monterey, Mexico, May 1905–Sept. 1906. According to Margot Ashley, her mother, Margaret Clelland Rice Reynolds, reported that the Thomas family moved from Virginia to Austin, Texas so that John Barrett Thomas (the father) could be closer to the work he was doing in Mexico. He would be gone for long periods of time and would return with opals and other semi-precious gems. He had coffee, mining and importing interests in Mexico.
Given James Louis’ abilities and age, he would likely have entered the University of Texas about 1911-12. He appeared in the UT yearbook in 1916 as a member of the undefeated tennis team. He is first on the left seated on the higher bench. James’s tennis exploits were included in the 1918 Cactus yearbook, however, while his tennis partner’s senior photo is there, he is not. In 1917, he was pictured in a uniform as part of the instructional staff with the School Of Military Aeronautics in Austin. In his June 5, 1917 World War I Draft Registration card, he was in Austin, Texas, listed as a student. He was living at 2109 San Gabriel and was single. Likely, he graduated in 1918, but failed to have his picture taken.
He and his wife, Mattie Louise Megee, married September 26, 1918, in Austin, Texas. They had a daughter, Frances Anne, born 1920 and died 2001 in Bethesda, MD. Their son, James L. Thomas Jr. (1925–1994) was an artist. He never married. Frances Anne married Morgan Ledyard Tenny. There is a headstone in Arlington Cemetery dedicated to her by her son, Colin Ledyard Tenny (1947–2002). Morgan was a Lt. Colonel in the US Army. Other children of Anne and Morgan were Pamela Jean Wenninger, Eloisi Libassi and Carole Boster. Anne was a mathematician at NBS and Concepts Analysis Agency.
Mattie Louise was also a talented athlete at Texas, as was her sister, Willie. While James Louis’ family was exceptional in many areas, Mattie Louise’s family was no less so. Mattie earned a letter in basketball at UT. She was very active in the Pierian Literary Society. Her sisters, Johnnie Mildred (1884–1964), Alice N., Willie, Mary Lena (1885–1965), and Anna J., all attended UT and participated in a variety of academic, sports, and cultural activities. Mattie Louise was clearly an independent young woman, as evidence by the following statement in her 1916 yearbook, “Here is the co-ed basketball champion. She wants equal athletic rights for men and women, and even desires to office in the Order of the T. With this Amazonian tendency she combines capacity for making grades, activities of all sorts, and a fondness of picnics at Barton Springs.” Louise would be disappointed to learn that she would have to wait 56 years for Title IX to provide the equality she sought in women’s athletics. At left, we see a second graduation entry for Louise, apparently she returned to UT for a second degree. This entry reads, “Louise is one of the innumerable sisters born and reared on East 26th Street. She was not satisfied with mere education, but came back this year with one idea—to revolutionize the D. E. school and make every man self-supporting.” Six of the Mcgee sisters held degrees from the U. of Texas.
In 1921, Louise's sister Mary Lena Megee, with two women and a male freshman took a 3000 mile trip to West Texas, New Mexico and Colorado by car. This was a very challenging route, mostly unpaved, quite steep in the mountains and broken with washed out bridges and sections. The three women were teachers and librarians. The diary has been transcribed by Mary Lena's grandson, James Waterfied and is available here: Zowinajo.
Above is an early picture of James and Louise with daughter Frances Anne, ca 1922.
At right is a photo of James Thomas with his granddaughter, Carole Tenney, Carole was the daughter of Morgan and Anne Thomas Tenney.
Alice N. Megee graduated from UT in 1905 and became an Austin school teacher. She was a principal of a school in Brownswood, TX, in 1919. Willie also became a teacher in Austin. Johnnie Mildred Megee married Leroy Vester Stockard a successful educator in Austin, Frost and Dallas. He had graduated from UT in 1911 with a physics degree. He earned a master's in 1912 in education. Johnnie who graduated from UT in 1905 earned an MA form UT in 1915. Both were members of Phi Beta Kappa.
James’s older sister, Annie Maude Thomas, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in 1910. This was also the year that Arnold Romberg, later UT physics professor, was elected. Maude was also an avid tennis player, serving as Vice-President of the Tennis Association 1912–1913, her senior year. In 1916, Maude is listed as a UT Librarian. Maude married William S. Rogers (1886–?) and lived in Apartado 156, Tampico, Mexico. He and Maude were in San Antonio in 1930 where he was working as a civil engineer.
Mary Virginia Thomas, James’s youngest sister, graduated from the University of Texas in 1921. She is shown at right. She married Winthrop Prescott Cody (1902-90) in 1925 and lived in Missouri and Ohio. James’s brothers, Howard Rice (shown at left) and William Giles, were engineers, who studied at UT. Howard graduated in civil engineering from UT in 1912. He earned an MS from the University of Illinois in 1914. His thesis was entitled, An Investigation of Hooped Concrete Columns. Howard married Mary Lena “Mary Lee” Mcgee (1885–1965) in Austin, TX, 1922. Mary Lena was an older sister of Mattie Louise Megee who married James Louis. In 1918, Mary Lena spent seven month in France under the auspices of the American Red Cross in support of the war effort. In their wedding announcement, Howard and Mary Lena were both listed as on the UT faculty. Howard was a testing engineer in the Bureau of Economic Geology. Mary Lena was Supervisor of Loans in the UT Library. Howard and Mary Lena had one child, Margaret Lee, born April 14, 1923 in Austin and died July 23, 1990 in Somerton, Somerset UK. Lee married Englishman John Percival Waterfield in 1950 in London. He had a very distinguished career which included serving as Ambassador to Mali and Consul to USA. In 1918, William Giles, age 25, was working as clerk and stenographer for the R. G. Dun Company in Austin. He was single. He later married Helen Cooper Flynt (1909–2000). In 1940, he was working as an engineer in the Austin Conservation and Reclamation District. He and Helen (age 30) had two children, son, George L. (age 12) and daughter, Betty M. (age 11).
In May 1917, the School of Military Aeronautics was opened in Austin. Lt. J. L. Thomas was a member of the staff. The picture of him shown below is from Kelly Field in The Great World War by Harry David Kroll. Captain Theophilus S. Painter (later UT President) was also an instructor. James Louis probably became connected with the Penn Field Radio School through UT physics professor, S. Leroy Brown, who supervised the school for UT. It was there he likely gained his extensive knowledge of radio. Penn field was named for Robert Penn, shown at right. Penn joined the military immediately upon graduating from UT where he had played football He went to Italy to train as a pilot and died inan accident when the propeller on his plane broke in flight.
Academic Board, School of Military Aeronautics
Back Row, L to R: Unknown, Capt. Theophilus S. Painter, Unknown, Lt. James Louis Thomas, Unknown
Front Row: Unknown, Dr. J. N. Bryant, Lt. Col. B. K. Yount, Capt. Roger Anory, Capt. J. W. Ramsay
Louise’s father, John T. Magee, died in November of 1917. He had been a salesman and worked in real estate. He and his wife, Annie Wilson Megee (1859–1934) successfully educated all of their children. All the daughters attended college.
In 1923, following his military service, James Louis wrote a 207-page book. The book, Fundamentals of Radio, was published by D. Van Nostrand Company. It also formed the basis for his master’s thesis that year. During 1923–1924, he was an Instructor in Physics at UT earning $1800/yr.
In the 1930 census, James L. Thomas was living in Bethesda, Maryland. He was a physicist with the U. S. Government and a veteran. His wife’s mother, Anna W. Magee (b. 1859), was living with them. All were listed as born in Texas except James Louis. They were living at 134 Fairmont Avenue in Bethesda.
In 1932, James earned a PhD in physics from the University of Texas. His dissertation was entitled Pure Metal Resistance Standards. The importance of this work is indicated by this quote in a 2001 NIST paper, “In the 1920s, Dr. James L. Thomas had taken up the task of improving the long-term stability of wire-wound resistors, which were used to measure the current in absolute determinations. When a resistor is made by winding wire on a spool, parts of the crystalline structure of the wire are stressed past their elastic limit. Thomas developed wire-wound standard resistors that were annealed at high temperature, which released some of the internal strains and reduced the rate of change of resistance with time. Heat-treated Manganin wire resistors developed by Thomas incorporated hermetically-sealed, double-walled enclosures, with the resistance element in thermal contact with the inner wall of the container to improve heat dissipation. These 1 [ohm] Thomas-type standards proved to be quite stable with time and quickly came into favor as the primary reference for maintaining the resistance unit at NBS and at many other NMIs.”
James Louis had a distinguished career at the National Bureau of Standards. His work on standardization of resistors was recognized throughout the world and was a seminal contribution to both science and engineering. A summary of his remarkable contributions was included in the publication, A Century of Excellence in Measurements, Standards, and Technology, A Chronicle of Selected NBS/NIST Publications, 1901-2000, January 2001, David R. Lide, Editor. The complete article is included at the end of this page. It is highly recommended.
His WWII Draft Registration card had the Thomases living at 65 Strathmore Avenue, Garrett Park, Montgomery County, MD. He works for NBS.
In 1942, James was working for National Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC. In 1946, he returned from Gothenburg, Sweden. The ship’s manifest listed his address as Garnett Park, New York. In 1948, he published, Precision Resistors and Their Measurement, NBS Circ. 470 (1948). In 1972, James L. Thomas, Chester Peterson and H. Cook, published “Aluminum Wire Tables”, Issue 109, a National Bureau of Standards report.
A Social Security record (SSN 578-58-8398) shows that James died in September of 1972, in Rockville, Montgomery County, MD.
In July 1995, John P. Waterfield, the English husband of Lee Thomas, daughter of Howard Rice and Mary Lena Mcgee Thomas and niece of James Louis and Louise Megee Thomas, wrote a memoir detailing the life of his wife, Lee, portrait at right. It is a remarkable account of a remarkable woman’s life. A link to the full article is provided. Here I quote excepts that refer to James Louis and Louise. I have provided some annotation in italics for the reader. i have retained the English spelling.—Mel Oakes
“In politics, one of the reasons for her choice, Grandma (Grandma is Lee) was opposed to the Tories, and especially found Mrs. Thatcher increasingly distasteful, both in manner and policies (though she recognized her decisive contributions in such matters as sound money and curbing trade union dominance). But she could not identify with the Labour Party, and so found herself forced to favour the hopeless cause of the Liberals. She had hopes of the S.D.P. (Social Democratic Party) but was disappointed at their schisms. Yet, she stuck to her principles to the end, and hoped for a third party's return to favour. In American politics, her family were all single-mindedly Southern Democrat, and Aunt Louise Thomas up to her death aged 93, was writing to me from Rockville, Maryland with fierce condemnation of President Reagan, and his successor, George Bush, and other Republicans! She and her sisters, all graduates of the University of Texas, were entirely liberal in politics, if conservative in social judgements, and individualistic in behaviour.
“The Rices (James Louis and Howard Rice’s mother was a Rice) were descended from Thomas Rice, an immigrant from the United Kingdom but from where previously is not known, according to the Ahnentafel (German ancestor table). But I seem to remember that Grandma used to say the first Rice came in a very early boat to Jamestown. Perhaps this cannot be authenticated, and, sadly, I cannot, due to her loss of memory, now consult Anne Tenny any more. Thomas Rice lived in St. Pauls' Parish, Hanover County, Virginia, and died between 1711 and 1716. His descendants seem to have been well-educated and include an attorney, two clergymen and doctor. A monument to the Reverend David Rice, son of the first immigrant, stands in the Town Square of Danville, Kentucky. He was born in 1733 and died in 1816, and had eleven children. He was a "ridge-rider" in Virginia and Presbyterian Minister in Kentucky. He was the founder of Transylvania University and of Hampden-Sydney College, and helped to write the Kentucky Constitution. Grandma's mother was Mary Lena Megee, born in 1885 in Travis County, Texas and died in 1965 in Austin, Texas, while we were in Bamako, Mali. Grandma went to help her father sort out the house and move to a house in Rockville. She went again from Delhi taking Bun with her, when her father died two years later. I remember the efficient and calm way in which Grandma, all on her own, sorted everything out with lawyers, doctors and bankers. She did not bring much back from her parents' estate, some American silver, and some nice china which we use now. She also arranged to ship a chair from the old Texas Senate House which was bought by her father when there was some sort of refurbishment. We still have the chair, a solid piece, but I do not know what wood it is made of, probably mahogany.
“John Barnett Thomas (James Louis’ father), as I remember it from Grandma, had a managerial, but not very senior, job on the railways at Pulaski before moving, with his wife to Austin, Texas, where, as recounted above, Grandma was born. John Barnett Thomas appears to have been something of a mystery man. Grandma did not, I think, know what he did for a living in Texas, after their move, and he went off to Mexico in about 1920, before Grandma was born, and there disappeared or died. I do not remember that Grandma or Anne Tenny (Frances Anne Thomas Tenny, daughter of James Louis and Louise) knew if he communicated with his family at first, or why he went to Mexico. I do not think anyone knew. In any event, he was never heard of again, not even on death. His wife, who died in Washington, aged 90, in 1952, was evidently someone of strength of purpose and character. She brought up her family, single-handed, in (as I remember hearing) a frame house where the tallest building of the great University of Texas now stands. (They, in fact, lived on East 26th Street.) Incidentally, my cousin Eileen Shorland sold all her inherited family papers about Sir John Herschel, my great-grandfather, to the University of Texas, where Professor Evans* edited his letters and diaries for the book Herschel at the Cape, which we have and is well worth reading. I have written about the erroneous reference in it to my great-grandmother's diaries. ( *David Stanley Evans, Professor of Astronomy at U. of Texas. He was born in Wales and educated at Cambridge.)
“Of course Grandma was in her element at indoor games. All her Thomas relations, especially Uncle James, were highly-skilled bridge players and Grandma was well up in their ranks, and enjoyed the game in family circles or with sympathetic friends.
“She (Lee Thomas) was born in Austin, Texas on 14 April 1923, the only child of Howard Rice Thomas and Marylena McGee Thomas. Her father was at the time teaching engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, where, indeed, he had taken his degree, together with his brother James. Anne Tenny's father, "Uncle James", had a distinguished career, rising to be Deputy Director, in the U.S. Bureau of Standards in Washington and he was also Mayor of Garrett Park, Maryland, living on Montrose Avenue, Garrett Park until he and his wife Louise retired to 13900 Glen Mill Road on the hill to the north side of Rockville, then on the edge of farming land and with a fine view to Sugar Loaf Mountain. After James' death, Louise lived on in the house (seen above) until she died at age 93, with her son Jim, who painted (without material success) and grew vegetables, and never married. I have referred to him earlier. Grandma and I had many happy visits to Glen Mill Road over a period of nearly forty years. James and Louise were always very kind to us, and they were especially fond of Grandma.
“I can now, with the assistance of Anne Tenny's Ahnentafel, tell something of Grandma's interesting ancestry, which was a subject of continued and fruitful collaborative investigation by both Grandma and her cousin throughout their adult lives. It was also fascinating for me to watch and learn of their researches. Grandma's father, Howard Rice Thomas, was born in 1887 at Pulaski, Virginia, a rather unattractive railway town which I remember Grandma, Anne Tenny and I visited briefly in snow on one of our drives together back to James and Louise's big house in Glen Mill Road, Rockville, Maryland, outside Washington, from Florida. John Barnett Thomas, Howard Thomas's father, was born on 23 Feb 1863 in Botetourt County, Virginia, and married Sarah Frances Rice, who is buried in the beautiful cemetery at Montvale, Bedford Co. Virginia, which we visited several times. It lies below the Peaks of Otter, of which we have a splendid photograph in winter sunshine, with ice on the fir trees, and which I, by a fluke, took successfully when we, again with Anne Tenny, were making a genealogical trip to Virginia.
“Margaret Lee Thomas, b. Austin TX, April 14 1923, m. John P. Waterfield Feb 25 1950, St George's Hanover Square, London, d. July 23,l 1990, Somerton, Somerset, UK.”
John Percival Waterfield, (1921–2002)
by Michael Rhodes
John Percival Waterfield, late of HM Foreign Service [subsequently HM Diplomatic Service], one-time British Ambassador to Mali and Guinea, and late the Northern Ireland Office, died in hospital, 21 December, 2002. He was 81. He was born at Dublin, 5 October 1921, son of Sir [Alexander] Percival Waterfield, KBE, CB, [1888–1965], of Sotwell, Wallingford, Berkshire, by his wife, the former Doris Mary Siepmann. His father was Treasury Remembrancer in Ireland, 1920–22; Principal Assistant Secretary, 1934–39; Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Information during WWII. John Waterfield was educated at Dragon School; Charterhouse, and Christ Church, Oxford. Career: served in the Second World War with the 1st Battalion, The King's Royal Rifle Corps [60th Rifles], in the Western Desert, Tunisia, Italy and Austria, and was mentioned in dispatches; entered HM Foreign Service [subsequently Diplomatic] Service, 1946; Third Secretary, Moscow, 1947; Second Secretary, Tokyo, 1950; Foreign Office, 1952; First Secretary, Santiago, Chile, 1954; HM Consul [Commercial] New York, 1957; Foreign Office, 1960; Ambassador to Mali Republic, 1964-65, concurrently to Guinea, 1965; duties connected with NATO, 1966; Counsellor and Head of Chancery, New Delhi, 1966-68; Head of Western Organizations Department, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 1969; Managing Director, BEAMA, 1971; Principal Establishments and Finance Officer, Northern Ireland Office, 1973–79; on secondment to International Military Services Ltd, 1979–80; retired from public service, 1980; company director and consultant, 1980–84. He married firstly, 1950, [Margaret] Lee Thomas, by whom he had two sons, John and James, and one daughter, Polly. His first wife died in 1990. He married secondly, 1991, Tilla Hevesi Vahanian. His second wife died in 1999. Waterfield lived in retirement at Somerton, Somerset. The funeral takes place at the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Somerton, Monday 30 December, 2002. Odd—for an diplomat who made it to Ambassador—no CMG or KCMG. Perhaps because of his Dublin birth ?
Obituary of John Percival Waterfield From the Times, 21 January 2003.
JOHN WATERFIELD’s career of public service culminated in a key role in setting up the Northern Ireland Office, of which he was the principal establishment and finance officer from 1973 to 1979. This made him responsible for all aspects of the administration of a new government department, including the recruitment of staff, while shuttling continually between offices in Whitehall and Belfast.
John Percival Waterfield was born in 1921, the son of Sir Percival Waterfield, later the first Civil Service Commissioner. They were direct descendants of the astronomer William Herschel. Waterfield was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford; Charterhouse, where he was a scholar; and Christ Church, Oxford (again as a scholar).
He served throughout the war with The King’s Royal Rifle Corps (60th Rifles), commanding a platoon of Bren Gun carriers and machine guns at El Alamein and across the Western Desert to Tunisia. Here, he led a notable patrol at the Wadi Akarit, which contributed substantially to the success of the Indian Division’s night attack on April 6, 1943.
Following the victory in North Africa, Waterfield moved with his battalion to Italy for the long slog north, during which he became captain and adjutant before the severe battles for the Gothic Line. He commanded the Headquarters Company for the final campaign in northeastern Italy and the advance into Austria after the German surrender. He was demobilised in 1945, having been mentioned in dispatches.
In the summer of 1946, he entered the Diplomatic Service and joined the Northern Department of the Foreign Office. Posts in Moscow and Tokyo, Santiago as First Secretary and New York as Commercial Consul followed. In 1964, he was appointed Ambassador to the Mali Republic and, simultaneously, to the Republic of Guinea. In 1966, he was promoted to Head of Chancery at the High Commission in Delhi.
A further post as head of the Western Organisations Department of the Foreign Office and four years as managing director of the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers Association, preceded his appointment to form the new Northern Ireland Office, the continued existence of which is a tribute to his administrative skill. He retired in 1980.
Waterfield was a good example of the “generalist”, seeking advice from recognised experts, as opposed to the “specialist” in a particular country or subject. Never lacking in candour, he was not one to bow to seniority. He would always puncture pomposity and was sceptical of politicians. He was uncompromising on matters of principle and through honesty probably sacrificed prospects of promotion to the top of the Diplomatic Service, which his first-class brain and administrative ability appeared to merit.
His rather dry curriculum vitae may give the impression that Waterfield was a stereotyped example of a civil servant. This was by no means the case. He was a very unusual man. He enjoyed a robust and varied personal life as a bon viveur in an almost Edwardian style. He would have been much at home at pre-1914 house parties, especially if they had a cricketing or fishing theme.
His acquaintance was widespread, his friends a selected few. To the latter, he was ever hospitable, whether at his London club or at Somerton, where his small garden, meticulously manicured, provided a further keen interest. He was also an enthusiastic and ingenious fly-fisherman, delighting in his pursuit of salmon in Ireland and of trout nearer home. He was never happier than when sharing picnics with his guests on the banks of the Nadder.
His life was further enhanced by his talent as a watercolourist. His landscapes of foreign lands and the waterside, sometimes transferred to Christmas cards and postcards, gave real pleasure to his family and friends.
Waterfield was married in 1950 to Margaret Lee Thomas, by whom he had two sons and a daughter. Lee died in 1990, and in 1992 he married Tilla Hevesi Vahanian, a psychotherapist and agony aunt in New York. She died, after a short illness, in 1999, a blow from which he never fully recovered.
James Louis Thomas Photo and Document Album
Mattie Louise Megee Thomas Photo and Document Album