Edith Peete Thomas
Dr. Edith Peete Thomas, 86, of Memphis, Tennessee, was called home August 7, 2023 after a long battle with Alzheimer Disease, a recent diagnosis of Congestive Heart Failure, and Covid 19.
Edith was born on July 30, 1937, to the late Walter Peete and Carrie (Boyd) Peete, the last of seven children and preceded in death by her siblings (Alease Parrish, Walter Peete, Louis Peete, Martha Croft, Elizabeth Peete and Johnnie Peete). Edith attended Catholic Central High School for Girls in Detroit, MI and then Fontbonne Women’s College in St. Louis, MO. After getting her undergraduate degree in Dietetics from Fontbonne, she continued her education and earned a Master's Degree in Nutrition from St. Louis University, St. Louis, MO. Upon graduation she accepted the position of Director of Dietetics at St. Louis University Hospital. During that time she also worked for Head Start as a Nutritionist in the St. Louis area. Relocating to Baltimore, MD, Edith was employed by Johns Hopkins Hospital as Head Nutritionist. Relocating a second time, to New York she earned a second Master’s Degree, (an Ed.M.) in Nutrition Education from Columbia University, New York, NY. Edith ultimately went on to get her doctorate in Nutrition and Adult Education at Indiana University, Bloomington, IN. After earning her doctorate, Dr. Edith Peete Thomas had a prolific resume; a faculty member at University of North Carolina, School of Public Health, Chapel Hill, NC , Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, and George Mason University, Fairfax, VA; and finally settling into her major career as the National Program Leader for Organization Development in the Planning, Development and Evaluation Unit of The Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. There, Dr. Thomas provided consultation and advice to individuals, groups, and organizations to aid them in restricting and managing change through the use of behavioral science theory, methods, and research.
One of Edith’s greatest professional accomplishments was in her pursuit of justice for the 1890 historically black land grant colleges/universities and low-income minority families. As the highest-ranking black woman at the US Department of Agriculture, Dr. Thomas charged the USDA was denying nutritional assistance, services and education to black land grant colleges/universities and low-income minority families, while not having the same limitations to predominantly white colleges/universities, a charge to which the USDA responded, by firing Dr. Thomas. These charges prompted a House Judiciary Subcommittee to seek more details on the case from the Agriculture Secretary. She also drew support from the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson's National Rainbow Coalition. The case was mentioned (and written about) by Washington Post Reporter, Ward Sinclaire, and brought to the attention of President Regan during a White House Press Conference. Through her actions, courage and perseverance the USDA ultimately dropped all disciplinary charges against Dr. Thomas, reinstated her and ultimately changed their policies around the services and assistance provided to black land grant colleges/universities and low-income minority families.
Edith has received numerous professional awards, including the Founders Day Award from Fontbonne University, St. Louis, MO, and the Secretary of Agriculture Team Honor Award for Outstanding Customer Service, as well as serving on a number of Nutrition and Program Evaluation Committees. She was President of the District of Columbia Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and served in many leadership capacities in the American Evaluation Association: Chair of the Diversity Committee, Chair of the Awards Committee, and served on the Board of Advisory Editors, New Directions for Evaluation. She was an active member of the American Dietetic Association, where she served as Chair of the Guiding Principles Committee, and Society for Nutrition Education.
In addition to her numerous awards and professional recognitions, Dr. Thomas was the primary author of several articles and research reports published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as leading nationwide projects on childhood obesity and helping children lead healthier lifestyles.
Edith was a member (Beta Delta, St. Louis, MO) and founding chapter member (Kappa Tau Omega, Indiana University) of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Edith married the love of her life, Dr. Charles Leo Thomas on August 25, 1962. They spent 61 (almost 62) perfect years together sharing unconditional love. They never left each other’s side.
Throughout her career and professional struggles, Edith always kept her family and faith first. Her intelligence, strength, character and humor allowed her to be an exceptional wife, outstanding professional working woman and the most devoting and responsive of parents to her children, Stephanie and Stephen.
An amazingly strong woman who lead an exceptionally full unapologetic life, Edith passed in the presence of her son, Stephen, with her deceased mother, father and siblings welcoming her with open arms.
Edith is survived by her husband, Dr. Charles Leo Thomas and her children, Stephanie Lynne (Thomas) Tryon (Stuart) and Charles Stephen Thomas (Nicole). She also leaves behind the lights of her life, her grandchildren, Sydney Tryon, Sawyer Tryon, Dominique Thomas and Peyton Thomas, as well as a host of nieces, nephews and cousins. She is most loved, forever missed, and always remembered.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org)