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Louise Thomas, An Everyday Hero

Louise Thomas, founder of Angel Charity for Children, Inc. is an everyday hero, an “Angel” who turned a personal tragedy into a cause that has positively impacted the lives of more than a million children throughout Pima County, Arizona.

The family tragedy was the loss of her 9-year old son Michael to lymphoma in 1979. From her personal grief, Louise has brought hope for a better life for children in our community. Since Angel Charity was founded in 1983, the all-volunteer organization she spearheaded has touched more than 1 million children, awarded 137 project request grants to nonprofits, and funded more than $31 million to improve lives of children in Pima County, Arizona. Her inspiration to help others also launched an endowed chair in pediatric cancer research and also inspired the launch of another nonprofit organization called PANDA (People Acting Now Discover Answers) in Phoenix, Arizona.

40+ Years of Community Impact

The tragic loss of Michael fueled the start of Louise’s more than 40-year commitment to community service.

Her personal experience with the Ronald McDonald House led her to understand the importance of the facility, which houses families whose children are being treated at Tucson, Arizona hospitals. In 1982, she was asked to join the board of directors and develop a plan to pay off the property’s mortgage. Facing the challenge full throttle, she and co-founder/vice chair, the late Jane Loew Sharples, started Angel Charity for Children.

40 Years on 4: Tucson mom turns grief into helping others to honor late son

The first Angel Ball was modeled after a successful fundraising event Louise attended in Dallas, Texas. Louise, Jane and others quickly jumped in, asking friends and colleagues to join their cause. Plans were put into play for a gala event including dinner, ball and casino, with many businesses donating goods and services as prizes.

All the hard work paid off. They successfully met their fundraising goal in one year, retiring the $305,000 mortgage and funding for additional space to the Ronald McDonald House in 1983.

Angel Charity’s annual black-tie gala is attended by donors who support Angel Charity. This is truly Angel Charity’s signature event, and not to be missed. The Angel Ball was voted Tucson’s Best Formal Charity Event by Tucson Lifestyle magazine.

Continued leadership

With Louise’s leadership over the years, hundreds of Angel volunteers have annually raised between $750,000 to $1,000,000 to fund nonprofits serving children’s needs by funding brick and mortar projects to build or renovate facilities, retiring mortgages, social services, health care, media research, education and the arts.

Louise continues to stay involved with Angel Charity as Guardian Angel Emeritus, regularly offering advice and volunteering for various projects, including work on many Angel Balls – the charity’s signature fundraising effort that benefits children’s organizations annually throughout Pima County.

Committed to a Cure

Beyond her efforts with Angel Charity, in 2005, the “Louise Thomas Endowed Chair in Pediatric Cancer Research” was named after Louise, a passionate advocate of children’s health and a driving force behind the University of Arizona Steele Children’s Research Center since its inception. After the painful experience of losing their son, Michael, to cancer, Louise and her husband, Al, became advocates for the importance of medical research to find new treatments for childhood diseases.

Louise’s impact extends outside Tucson as a result of her passion and commitment to help find the cause and cure for terrible childhood diseases, including the cancer that took her young son. In the early 1980s, the University of Arizona’s Steele Children’ Research Center was unknown outside of Tucson, its reach was limited, and its funding stretched. Louise’s personal tragedy and her dedication to turn grief into positive action, inspired her friend and former neighbor Robyn DeBell who had moved to Phoenix, to co-found PANDA (People Acting Now to Discover Answers). That organization’s efforts to date have raised more than $30 million for the Steele Children’s Research Center which is staffed by renowned physicians and researchers from around the world.

Sources: Arizona Daily Star, Inside Business Tucson, University of Arizona Steele Children’s Research Center, PANDA (People Acting Now Discover Answers), and KVOA News 4 Tucson.

Louise Thomas(Left)
Photo Credit: Britta Van Vranken