William Brinker Thomas
October 22, 1947— September 17, 2020
William “Bill” Thomas crossed the bar on September 17, 2020, laying down his burdens after a lifetime of service to his country, his community, and most of all, his family. He was 72 years old. Bill leaves behind his wife of 44 years, Barbara Thomas, daughters Rachel Thomas Parham and Rebecca Thomas, sister Jan Greenwell, son-in-law Read Parham and grandson Bennett Parham.
Born in Thermopolis, Wyoming, Bill left his western roots to attend the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and spent the next thirty years in service to his country as a Coast Guard Officer. After graduating from the Academy in 1970, he served on the USCGC Rush in support of Operation Market Time in Vietnam, earning the Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars and the Navy Commendation Medal. He then went on to earn a JD from the University of Miami Law School and an LLM (Masters in Maritime Law) from Tulane University Law School. Over the course of his military career, Bill represented the Coast Guard in legal matters ranging from maritime regulation and drug interdiction to immigration and environmental protection. As Chief of Claims and Litigation at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, DC, he was awarded the Department of Transportation Outstanding Achievement Award for his work in securing the $1 billion Exxon Valdez settlement. As District Legal Officer for the Coast Guard’s 9th District in Miami, Florida, he was named Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida for the first successful prosecutions of cruise lines for violating the Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships and the Oil Pollution Act.
After retiring from the Coast Guard in 1996, Bill was recruited by Disney Cruise Line (DCL) to join their launch team and write the company’s maritime and environmental compliance procedures ahead of the launch of its first ship. He went on to ensure DCL’s compliance with state, federal and international maritime and environmental law over the next five years before joining Carnival Cruise Line as Director of Corporate Environmental Compliance.
Bill felt the call of public service once again after 9/11, joining the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) just after its founding in 2002 as TSA Supervisory Counsel for Orlando, Florida. Over the past 18 years, he helped to mature both the agency and its practice of law. In 2016, he was recognized by TSA Chief Counsel for executing the first-ever multi-location cargo settlement agreement with over $1 million in corrective actions. This agreement remains the foundation for all TSA cargo settlement agreements.
While his career kept Bill on the East Coast throughout most of his adult life, his love for the West never waned. Vacations spent in the view of Mount Rainier, the Columbia River, on his family’s ranch in Big Timber, Montana, or riding a train through the Canadian Rockies left the usually stalwart military man seeming more like a kid in a candy store.
Whether in his professional or personal capacities, Bill was selfless and steadfast. He was a trusted friend and confidant, and an enthusiastic supporter of those he loved. A man of few words, he shared his love by tending beautiful gardens for his family to enjoy, building a workbench in a loved one’s new home, or holding his wife and daughters tightly when they needed him most.
In recognition of his long military service, Bill will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be announced. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that those who would like to honor Bill please consider a donation to support the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) in his memory. Donations can be made through the US Coast Guard Alumni Association at https://www.cgaalumni.org/.