The Vanguard Honors the Life of Tansey Thomas

Editor’s note: While the Vanguard does not typically run obituaries, Tansey Thomas was not only a great personal friend, but an early inspiration and supporter of the work of the Vanguard.  The Davis Community has lost one of its great champions for social justice this month.

Tansey Washington Thomas (1931 – 2017)

Tansey Washington Thomas, 85, died peacefully in her home on October 19, 2017 in Davis, CA.  A community organizer and political activist in every sense of those words Tansey  throughout her life devoted her energy and intelligence to advocating for civil rights, women’s rights, social and economic justice and equality and fairness for all people.

Tansey Washington was born on December 3, 1931 in Long Branch, New Jersey to Rocksey Gray Adams Washington and Charles Washington.  She was the third born of four children,

Tansey graduated from Long Branch High School in 1949 and immediately went to work as a nurse assistant.  In 1952 she enlisted in the United States Navy WAVES and did her “boot camp” recruitment training at Naval Station Great Lakes near Chicago, Illinois.  After graduation her first assignment was at the U.S. Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, NJ, followed by billets in San Diego and San Francisco.  In December 1953 Tansey attended a specialized training program at the U.S. Naval Training Center in San Diego graduating with the rank of Yeoman Class “A”.

Tansey was Honorably Discharged from the Navy on February 28, 1958 upon her marriage to Horace Anthony Thomas, Jr. a U.S. Marine.  They were married on February 11, 1958 in San Francisco.

In 1958 Tansey went to work for the Internal Revenue Service in San Francisco, later transferring to Washington D.C. where her children Tony and Lisa were born.  She transferred back with the IRS to California in 1965 after her divorce from Mr. Thomas, settling in Sacramento.

While working in Sacramento and raising Tony and Lisa she began her college education at Sacramento City College, eventually moving to Davis and transferring to UC Davis in 1969.  She graduated in 1973 with a BA in Sociology and then began her graduate studies in Sociology.  Professors Roland Marchand, Lyn and John Lofland and Isao Fujimoto as well as graduate student Dorothy Place were her advisors providing academic mentoring and friendship to her and her children.  She often mentioned how grateful she was for their many kindnesses.

Tansey was a believer in her God and a longtime member of the United Methodist Church of Davis.  She delighted in the civic activism of the congregation under the leadership of the Reverend Darrell Darling and made many friends among the members.  Will and Jane Lotter and their boys welcomed and moved Tansey, Lisa and Tony to Davis and the Darling Family welcomed them to the Methodist Church which she never forgot.

Upon completion of her college education Tansey worked for the State of California as an analyst with several agencies including the DMV, Fish & Game, Consumer Affairs Board of Sciences retiring after a 25 year career.

Tansey resided in Davis for 48 years and will be most remembered for her civic and political activism and as an effective community organizer both on the UC Davis campus and in the Davis community.  At the center of her activism was the belief in treating everyone with fairness, kindness, respect and seeking justice for all.

As a student in 1972 Tansey served as the Regional Campaign Organizer/Coordinator for Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm’s 1972 presidential campaign for the Fourth Congressional District.  She was a “founding mother” of the UC Davis Women’s Resource and Research Center.  She invited Maya Angelou to the campus to speak and Ms. Angelou accepted her invitation.  She conceived and organized many symposiums at the university, including a month long conference in 1977 entitled “Love in America” co-chaired with UC Davis English Professor Carl Shapiro, studying the question: “What is love in America?”

In 1989 Tansey was selected to be a delegate with the Uman Davis Sister City Project traveling with Maynard Skinner, Stan Forbes, Joan Poulos and Chris Grain to the International Conference of Sister Cities held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.  On this trip the delegation also visited Russia and Ukraine and Tansey often mentioned what a wonderful experience this was for her to help represent the City of Davis.

For many years Tansey served on and chaired the City of Davis Human Relations Commission.  In her later years she served on the City of Davis Senior Citizen Commission.  The City of Davis gave Tansey their Thong Hy Huynh Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 for her “significant human rights efforts improving the quality of life in Davis.”  She was honored by the Yolo County Concilio in 2005 with their Community Award for building bridges amongst all peoples and in 2014 she was again honored with their Lifetime Achievement Award.

Tansey served on the Board of Directors of DCTV (now known as Davis Media Access) from 1996 to 1999.  She hosted numerous shows and worked with staff to strengthen this local community owned station.  One of her most memorable programs was interviewing members of the Davis contingent of the Freedom Marchers (Rev. John Pamperin, Dick Holdstock and Terry Turner) who traveled to Alabama in 1965 to walk with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr on what became known as the famous “Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail”.

A lifelong member of the Democratic Party, she was active in the Davis Democratic Club, served on the Yolo County Democratic Central Committee, was a delegate to many California Democratic State Conventions and was active in many local campaigns.  In recent years she was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton’s two presidential campaigns and delighted in the election of Barack Obama as president.  She was honored by the Davis Democratic Club at their Annual Holiday event by “Recognizing Tansey Thomas for a Lifetime Achievement Award acknowledging her dedicated commitment to the entire Davis community in Race Relations, Academic Achievement and Social Justice from 1970 to the present, December 8, 2013.”  At that event she was also honored by Congressman John Garamendi, State Senator Lois Wolk and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada with Resolutions commending her for a lifetime of community activism working to bring equality to all Americans regardless of their race, creed, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

Tansey ran for the Davis City Council in 1980 and 2000.  Her 2000 campaign caught a spark and with tremendous community support and a lifetime of Davis friends to help and endorsements from mayors Julie Partansky and Ken Wagstaff she was nearly elected and placed runner up losing a council seat by only 370 votes.  Her campaign theme was: “Tansey Thomas! for Davis City Council ‘Let’s Make a Difference’”.

Tansey had a rich social life with many friends of different backgrounds.  One of her favorite things to do was have lunch or dinner with friends “holding court” at Café California where she had her own special table from which she viewed the crowd and said hello to friends and acquaintances.  In her later years she attended the ballet and concerts in San Francisco with her daughter Lisa.

Tansey is survived by her daughter Lisa Gabrielle Thomas of Davis, her son David Anthony Thomas of San Francisco and her nephew Victor Washington of New York.  Her siblings: William Shaw, Samuel Adams, and Beatrice Washington Johnson preceded her in death.

Tansey will be remembered and deeply missed by her many dear friends including Yvonne Marsh, Joyce Gordon, Will Lotter, Isao Fujimoto, Betsy Marchand, Darrell and Karen Darling, Willis (Bill) Ritter, Dick and Carol Holdstock, John Pamperin, Sandy Holman, Jann Murray Garcia, Rick Gonzales, Bill Calhoun, Timothy Malone and Bernita Toney.

A viewing will be held at the Smith Funeral Home, 116 D Street, Davis on Thursday, Nov. 2 from 4 to 7 p.m.

A memorial service will be held at the United Methodist Church, 1620 Anderson Road, Davis on Friday, Nov. 3 from 10 a.m. to 12 noon followed by a pot-luck reception from 12 to 2 p.m.

Tansey will be buried next to her sister Beatrice Johnson at the Davis Cemetery with military honors at 3 p.m.

To help with Tansey’s funeral costs donations may be made through Go Fund Me

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. Howard P

    Good choice, on when rules are made to be broken.  [publishing obits]

    Ms Thomas was not someone I ever met personally… yet, I saw her effect on people and issues… outrageously positive as to people… issues I often was lukewarm to, but she always seemed genuine, honest/high integrity, and caring.

    Although we may miss her presence, voice and influence, you gave me a clue of why ‘all is good’.  She will always be a part of those who knew her and loved her dearly – a form of immortality.  As I write this, there is no doubt in my mind that she is with her Lord, and her God. [Matthew 25:21; Luke 19:17]

    She used her ‘talents’ well, as far as I can see.


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