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George Thomas Chapman, III – Tom, or Thomas, or Grumpy – passed away on Monday, March 21, 2022. Thomas was preceded in death by his parents, George Thomas Chapman, II and Mary Reynolds Chapman. He is survived by his loving wife, Cherry Marshman Chapman and his devoted sister, Catherine Callahan “Cat” Chapman. Thomas and Cherry reared a close-knit family of sons, daughters, and grandchildren: Joshua Chapman and wife, Giuliana, and their sons Phineas and Jupiter; Sara Freeman and husband, Joshua, and their daughters Hazel and Isabelle; Maya Crite and husband, TJ, their daughters Tyana and Dimaiah, and sons Tre and Tyrik; Seth Chapman and partner Kiara Jaye, their daughter McKenzie and son Seth, Jr.; Brittany Chapman and her daughter Leilani; and honorary daughter, Sonoko Konishi, and husband, Ewan Johnson.
Thomas’s parents, George and Mary, hailed from Henryetta, Oklahoma. George joined the Navy, served in combat in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, and went on to serve a full career as a Naval Commander. As a Navy family, the Chapmans lived everywhere from California to Cuba, travelled extensively, met amazing people, and were first-hand participants in major world events. Thomas had a boundless appetite for knowledge; he attributed this to his dynamic childhood and to his parents, who encouraged him and Catherine to value travel, getting to know new people and to having new experiences.
Beginning in 1958, Thomas served as a Congressional Page to the Oklahoma delegation, eventually directly serving Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson. Thomas worked for LBJ’s 1960 presidential campaign, and, later that same year, he and a fellow Page hand-delivered the Electoral College votes that resulted in John F. Kennedy’s victory.
Thomas received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia. There he had a brief, unremarkable career as a nose tackle but had far more fun hanging out at folk music coffeehouses and playing jazz flute. Thomas also worked at WUVA, eventually serving as Director of News and Public Affairs.
After graduating, Thomas went to teach English at Louisa County High School in Virginia. It was soon after integration, and, upon realizing that most of the students, black and white, had never been exposed to authors of color, Thomas adjusted the curriculum to include African American literature. He experienced an immediate and hostile response: the Sheriff removed his daughter from the class, crosses were burned on Thomas’ lawn and attempts were made to run him off the road, but he continued to engage his students in dialogue about racial issues.
Thomas married the love of his life, Cherry, on April 10, 1971. However, Thomas knew the exact date and time that he met Cherry for the first time and celebrated that day for fifty-three years that followed. Cherry was trained as a social worker, and shared Thomas’ commitment to helping others. She is also a talented artist from a family of artists and a career teacher of remarkable patience and creativity. They complemented each other perfectly; meeting her was the most fortunate event of his life.
Thomas and Cherry settled in Roanoke, VA, when Thomas followed his mentor George Garrett to pursue his MA from Hollins College’s celebrated Creative Writing program. Thomas and Cherry then accepted positions at an adolescent group home. Through this work, Thomas became interested in adolescent drug abuse and addiction and ultimately became the Director of Administration for Mental Health Services of the Roanoke Valley (now Blue Ridge Community Services), where he would work until his retirement. During his career, Thomas was particularly proud of his work to revamp his agency’s accounting system; in time, the whole state adopted a new accounting system modelled upon the system he developed. Although he was trained as a poet and not a statistician, Thomas served on the Southern Regional Council on Mental Health Statistics for many years, eventually as Chair.
Thomas served on several boards including Offender Aid and Restoration and the Manpower Board for the Virginia Department of Labor. He was particularly proud of his more than 33 years of service on the board of Freedom First Credit Union, whose commitment to help create a more inclusive society in which all people, regardless of color or class, are treated with dignity and respect and afforded equal opportunities he took to heart. He helped lead Freedom First’s evolution into a Community Development Financial Institution with a mission to rebuild businesses, housing, voluntary organizations, and services central to revitalizing our nation’s poor and working-class neighborhoods.
Thomas was most passionate about improving the welfare of children. He served as a “Big Brother,” and he and Cherry became foster parents and advocates of adoption. His involvement in his children’s athletic interests even lead to coaching, and then to become the athletic director of Virginia Western Community College.
Thomas loved music and letters and food. His tastes were broad and deep. He was brilliant and kind, forgiving and humble. He loved each of his children for who they were, and his love was unconditional and boundless. For all he did for the world, for all the countless friends he made—and he found a way to befriend almost everyone he met--he was a father and husband before anything else.
Thomas, now is the time to rest. We miss you. And we love you dearly. Always and Forever.
The family requests donations be made in his name to Community School, 7815 Williamson Rd, Roanoke, VA 24019.
A Memorial Service will be announced at a later date.
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