GARDEN CITY, GA (WTOC) - Tony Thomas lost his life in the sugar refinery explosion. His funeral today was the last one of the nine workers who died. A large crowd gathered in Garden City at the First Baptist Church to pay their respects and mourn this well-loved man. The family man, former Groves High School football star and sugar refinery superintendent is being remembered for the amazing impact he had on his community.
The family and friends of Tony Thomas crowded the First Baptist Church. More than 750 people filled the pews and stood in the aisles to say their goodbyes.
"Tony served on our city's planning commission and board of appeals," said Garden City mayor Andy Quinney, who grew up with Thomas. "He was just so much a part of the community that you can see from the showing here just how much he meant to everybody."
Standing behind his father's casket, surrounded by flowers and his father's football jersey, Thomas's son, Cody, talked about his father as a caring and loving person, a man who loved to laugh, a man who never met a stranger, a man of faith.
"I know he now rests in peace in heaven," said Cody Thomas. "We should all find comfort knowing we have an angel watching over us."
Thomas worked at Imperial Sugar for more than 30 years. He was one of the first employees company CEO John Sheptor met and said he was privileged to know. "We're here today to acknowledge the splendor and work of an incredible man's life," said Sheptor.
That work extended into his community, touching the lives of his family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Even though that work has now come to an end, Reverend Ken Sharpe encouraged Thomas' loved ones to have hope. A message he brought home as he handed the gift of a tiny stuffed bear to Thomas' young grandson Spencer to unwrap.
"I want you to know the most important part of that gift was what was inside the package," he said, giving the package to the boy. "What was inside was the good stuff."
It is the good stuff, his friends and family say, that will last.
"His laughter," explained Quinney. "He made you smile no matter what happened. He always had a joke, a smile. He just brightened up the place when he walked in."
Thomas was buried in Hillcrest Abbey West Cemetery. He was a husband, father, grandfather and brother. Tony Thomas was 50-years-old.