A Legacy: Dr. Claudia Thomas
As part of Black History Month, we honor Dr. Claudia Thomas, Washington State's first African American female mayor. Thomas started her political career in 1995 when she was elected to the very first Lakewood City Council. She then served as Deputy Mayor from 1995 to 2003, and her council peers voted her in as Mayor of Lakewood in 2006. While in office, her platform and agenda were "Unity in the Community." These words summed up everything she worked towards. Her passion and purpose were about building and improving communities around her.
From a young age, Thomas demonstrated a firm commitment to education. A gifted student, at age 15, she entered Bennett College in North Carolina, where she earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemistry. A passionate "lifetime learner," Thomas continued her educational pursuits earning a Master of Science Degree in Educational Administration from Seattle University and a Doctorate in Organizational Development and Management from Union University.
Thomas served 42 years in public education as a Teacher, Vice Principal, and Principal until she retired in 1994 after serving as the Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Bremerton School District. She faced obstacles in establishing her career in public education, including racial discrimination. Nonetheless, through resilience and exceptional skill, she earned her place as a leader in education and significantly impacted the Lakewood community in a myriad of positive ways.
During her time on the Lakewood City Council, she established the Lakewood Youth Council, comprised of local high school students who act as one of the city's advisory boards. Thomas is also responsible for initiating the city's practice of dedicating one percent of its general fund to human service organizations. She continued serving on the Lakewood City Council until 2011.
Thomas passed away on May 12, 2018, at 87. In 2020 a new state-of-the-art middle school serving 1,000 students in the Clover Park School District was named the Dr. Claudia Thomas Middle School. Efforts are now underway to construct a legacy to her name in the form of a 12-unit Habitat for Humanity housing project in Lakewood's Tillicum neighborhood. The first home is projected to be built in the spring of 2023. It will be named the Dr. Claudia Thomas Legacy House in honor of her tireless work and positive influence on the community.
Her son, Bryan Thomas, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at O Bee, remembers his mother as a tireless advocate for those in need. He told us, “She always said, ‘You always help those who need help.’ I try and live by that every day.”
Dr. Claudia Thomas was an educator, civic leader, and activist who believed in unity. Her passion for serving low-income, underserved, and diverse communities never wavered. Her positive impact can be seen throughout the communities she improved in her lifetime.