08_10_12_Thomas_How long have you lived in Naples?

I have lived in Naples full time since 1995.

What is the most significant reason you moved here?

We had visited Naples before.   In retirement we were looking for a small town in a mild climate with some of southern California’s advantages but in the East. Naples seemed to fit the bill.

Where did you grow up, and where have you spent most of your life?

I grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA called McKeesport. I have lived a lot of places including southern California, but most lately Baltimore, MD.  I still have a home in Timonium, MD.

What best characterizes your life’s work?

I am a certified public accountant, and my career has been in accounting, finance, and banking. My last position was Chief Finance Officer of Cellular One and a number of other companies involved in this emerging industry.

What do you believe was the most important factor influencing your character and leadership development in your young life?

There were two things. First, my Dad who became an adult during the depression had an eighth grade education, but he was very smart and very independent. He continually urged me to go to college and follow my own path. I am the first college graduate in my family.  Second, in McKeesport, PA I lived in a very unusual six-square-block neighborhood–unusual because of its diversity.  For four years I had a paper route there (which was a small business!) that introduced me to different ethnic groups and customs, to people of varied religions, to wealthy families with kids in private schools including corporation executives and professionals, and to working class families, many who were mill workers. It was an introduction to the world.

What is the most challenging thing you have ever done?

Definitely it was making and sticking with the decision to leave the corporate world having all the privileges and security of an executive and directing my attention to the entrepreneurial world of beginning something completely new with a small number of colleagues.

What do you consider your most significant accomplishment?

I was fortunate to play a part in creating a whole new industry–cellular phones. I was part of a partnership that became Cellular One (which began commercial service in 1983) and later a number of companies associated with this new industry. In the early 1990’s we worked with the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), The Washington Post and Sprint to create additional competition to expand the cellular industry.

What do you believe is the greatest need in Collier County right now?

I have been thinking about this, and I believe it can be summed up in one word–tolerance.  We all need to treat one another with respect and not demonize people simply because they have a different point of view. There is way too much harsh rhetoric in conversation in Collier County. Everyone has the right to their opinions and ideologies, but they do not have the right to force those on others. For example, conservationists should not exhibit disrespect for developers, or religious conservatives should not show disrespect for the legal missions of Planned Parenthood, only 1 percent of which offends them. Tolerance is required in any diverse community and ultimately makes it possible to solve problems.

What is an issue in our community that you care deeply about?

Well, I care deeply about preserving the natural environment, the quality of our water, the eco-systems of SW Florida, the wildlife.  I was drawn here because of the quality of life, and preserving these things is essential to that quality.

What has been the greatest outcome for you from being a part of GNL?

Definitely it has been an opportunity to understand many diverse facets of the community. It has also brought me friends from a cross section of the population I might not have otherwise had.

In which community projects are you involved and what impact is that having on your life? 

I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida where I lend some of my accounting and financial expertise. My activities at the conservancy and being part of GNL have made me feel at home here. They have helped me feel like I belong. I am also helping with the grass roots effort to maintain the size of the Naples Airport which is also a part of preserving the quality of life here.

A bit of wisdom from Gary Thomas: 

When you have kids they take you out of the life you have known. When they grow up they take you to the life they know.