Assuming The Miles City Star doesn't mind, here is a copy of their story, posted for the purpose of archiving it online:
Friday, Feb. 1
Johnnie Lockett Thomas dies
By Denise Hartse
Johnnie Lockett Thomas, Miles City historian, author, supporter of the arts and honorary Emmy recipient, died Thursday afternoon, Jan. 31, 2008, in Holy Rosary Healthcare after a long battle with cancer.
Several years ago, Thomas learned that she had cancer and decided to stay in Miles City for her treatment. She made it through one bout with cancer, but later learned she had terminal cancer.
Thomas has said that she didn't know if she would have survived in the big city, reflecting on Miles City residents, their helpfulness and kindness. She took pride in surviving well past her doctors' prognosis.
Still strong in spirit at 75, Thomas was determined to embrace the time she had left. Since learning she had cancer a second time, she has been a guest at two wakes in her honor held around Bucking Horse Sale in mid-May. Her son, Eric, who plays in a band of highly acclaimed musicians, has brought several of his friends to perform for the event.
Thomas, who provided funding for the musicians' trips to Miles City, said she didn't want to pay for music she couldn't hear, so she was having her wakes while she could enjoy them.
On Independence Day, Thomas was parade marshal for the fourth annual Fourth of July Parade, and received an honorary Emmy in a surprise ceremony held in Riverside Park. Television producer John Twiggs, with KUFM-TV/Montana PBS at The University of Montana-Missoula, won two Northwest Regional Emmy awards for his work on the Montana PBS program "Backroads of Montana."
He enjoyed Thomas' appearance on the show and decided to share one of his Emmys, with Thomas' name on it, with her because of her generosity and willingness to tell her story.
"I know why I am here," Thomas said during her acceptance speech at the park. "I am here because of you and your generosity. I cannot tell you how grateful I am."
Earlier last year, Thomas also was named one of five recipients of the 2007 Montana Governor's Humanities Award. The awards were established by Gov. Marc Racicot in 1995, to honor achievement in humanities, scholarship and service, as well as enhancement of public understanding and appreciation of the humanities.
Thomas said that in Miles City she was treated like a native because the people remembered her husband, Bill "Bunky" Thomas.
He graduated from Custer County High School, and the couple returned to Miles City for his class reunions and stayed in touch with his classmates.
Mr. Thomas got sick in 1991, when they were living in northern New Jersey. He died in 1995, and the family took him to Miles City for burial.
Thomas said before leaving Miles City she saw an apartment for rent, and when she got back to New Jersey, she called and rented it, afterward dividing her time in New Jersey and Miles City. In 2002 she sold her New Jersey home and moved to Miles City permanently.
In 1996 she was invited to join the Speakers Bureau in Miles City and later joined the Montana Speakers Bureau. Her popularity grew, and she presented numerous historical programs about the Ursuline sisters, pioneer women and the Buffalo Soldiers stationed at Fort Keogh around the state.
Thomas was born in Talladega, Ala., and grew up in Tuskagee, Ala. She attended Drake in Des Moines, Iowa, and received a bachelor of fine arts degree in drama/speech.
She met her future husband, Bill Thomas, on a blind date. He had joined the Army and was stationed in Ft. Benning, Ga. On the couple's third date, he asked her to marry him. After their marriage, they visited Miles City for the first time and she met his family.
The couple lived in Europe, California, Washington, D.C., Maryland and New Jersey. They had three children, a son and two daughters, who have gone on to excel in fields such as music, language and law. She also was very proud of her two grandchildren.
"I had lots of opportunities," said Thomas. She was heavily involved in politics, and she met many politicians and even some movie stars. She also worked with the Smithsonian Institute.
Her adventures included being put on an FBI "no fly" master terrorist list because a wanted fugitive had used John Thomas Christopher as one of his aliases. An article about her adventure also appeared in the May 13, 2002, issue of "The New Yorker" magazine, and she was interviewed by several national media. Revealing her sense of humor, Thomas created a rap number about her flying adventures.
At the time of her death, Thomas had just finished her latest 300-page book titled "Growing Up Black in Montana," about her husband's life. She also wrote two other books, a children's book and one titled "Saints and Savages."
Shelley Freese, who assisted Thomas with getting her books ready for publication, said, "When she first told me she had cancer and I was feeling upset about it, she said, `Hey, I have had a fantastic life.' She was not bitter, she was thankful for everthing she had. She loved this place and the people and wanted us to write our history and have a voice."
Joe Whalen, mayor of Miles City, was out of town Friday, but he called to say, "Though I grieve the loss of a personal friend, I celebrate the remarkable life of Ms. Johnnie Lou Lockett Thomas. She is a cultural treasure of Miles City and an important Montana historian and an American heroine who has honorably and indelibly championed the cause of freedom from coast to coast, and leaves the world a more dignified place than she found it."
"The light that Johnnie brought to Miles City will dim during our mourning," said artist Tucker Bolton of Jabberwocky Studio. "The tempo of the music will slow, but the warm illumination and soft melody of Johnnie will never really end for those of us touched by her presence."
Kara Stewart, owner of Kafe Utza, said, "Her life was a celebration, but so was her death. She told me that `If anyone is going to cry at my funeral, I'll strangle them the night before.' Her body was weak, but her spirit was strong through the entire battle."
"Johnnie Thomas became a strong voice in her community from the start," said Mark Browning, director of the Custer County Art and Heritage Center. "Sensing her family's long attachment here, she has been generous with all of her resources and talents to contribute back, especially in the arts and history areas. We feel both a sense of loss and enrichment because of her."
"Like everyone else, we consider ourselves lucky to have met and spent some time with Johnnie," said producer John Twiggs after learning of her death. "I'm determined to keep smiling when I think about her (and not be sad), because I don't want to face Johnnie's wrath in the after-life!"
And as Thomas always said, "Life is too short not to do what you want to."
Funeral services for Thomas are pending in Miles City.
Source: The Miles City Star (http://www.milescitystar.com/
Date: Feb. 1, 2008