GREAT CITIZENS - ALBERT THOMAS
An exhibit hall within the Oscar F. Holcombe Civic Center Complex bears the name of Congressman Albert Thomas, a member of the United States House of Representatives from 1936 until his death 30 years later. Thomas was instrumental in securing the location of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Manned Spacecraft Center, now the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston in 1961.
Born in Nacogdoches, Texas on April 12, 1898 to Lonnie (Langston) and James Thomas, he graduated from Rice Institute in 1920 with a Bachelor of Arts degree. During World War I, he served as a second lieutenant.
In 1922, Thomas married Lera Millard of Nacogdoches. Earning a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Texas in 1926, Thomas was admitted to the Texas bar the following year. He served as Nacogdoches County attorney until 1930, when he moved to Houston to become assistant United States attorney. In 1936, Thomas was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat from the eighth congressional district. In 1949, he became chairman of the House subcommittee on independent office appropriations. He also served on the subcommittee on defense appropriations and on the joint committee on Texas House delegation.
When the Humble Oil Company discovered oil on about half of the 30,000-acre West Ranch, the company donated some 1,000 acres of the ranch land to Rice Institute. In turn, Herman Brown, a trustee of Rice University, offered the tract to the United States government on behalf of the institute as the site for NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center. Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, then chairman of the Space Council, and Thomas, a member of the NASA board, played leading roles in the eventual acceptance of Rice University's offer.
In November 1963, President John F. Kennedy, who had persuaded Thomas to continue in office and not to retire, and Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson, honored Thomas at a testimonial dinner in Houston. In 1964, Thomas was named chairman of the House Democratic caucus.
By the time of his death on February 15, 1966, at the age of 67 Thomas ranked eleventh in seniority in the House. Houston elected his wife Lera to complete his term. Some time after he died, the Albert Thomas Convention and Exhibit Center was named in his honor.