SALISBURY — Barbara Thomas’ bright red blazer, snow-white hair, ready smile and devotion to her community were as much a part of Salisbury as its beautiful coastline, and her recent passing has caused sadness in the town she loved and served for decades.
At their meeting this week, selectmen paused for a moment of silence to mourn Thomas’ death, which occurred just before Labor Day weekend. A three-term selectman and member of numerous town boards, Thomas was considered a local treasure.
Selectman Don Beaulieu served with Thomas during her tenure in office, praising her as a good selectman who gave thoughtful consideration to her decisions and always worked on behalf of the best interests of her town.
“You could talk to Barbara,” Beaulieu said. “And even if she didn’t agree with your point of view, she could agree to disagree with you in a very pleasant way. She was dedicated to this town.”
Born and raised in Salem, Barbara Tripp Thomas and her family moved to Salisbury in 1949, and she devoted herself to her family and new hometown, showing her belief in community service in dozens of ways over her lifetime.
“She worked for me as a poll worker for years, right up to this year,” said Town Clerk Wilma McDonald. “She faithfully attended every Town Meeting, and you don’t see that anymore in the younger generation. She loved this town. She was a great lady.”
Married to the late Walter Irving Thomas, Barbara Thomas raised three daughters, Susan Christ, Gail and Joyce Thomas, and was part of Anna Jaques Hospital’s accounting department until her retirement in 1992. She served as a selectman from 1990 to 1999, and after that, served on the Salisbury Housing Authority, Warrant Advisory Committee and Council on Aging.
But Thomas served in other ways as well, as a member of the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce, Beach Betterment Committee, Taxpayers’ Association and a board member of the Swasey Fund, a local philanthropic organization.
And she took on many of the detail-oriented jobs that make communities better, like being a Girl Scout leader and for 17 years organizing Salisbury’s annual Memorial Day parade. Thomas also coordinated the food pantry at Pettengill House for 14 years, receiving the Stand Up and Be Counted Award, given by the Pentucket People’s Foundation in 2004 for her leadership and persistent work for the betterment of the community.
“Barbara tried to right wrongs, she was that kind of lady,” said Maria Blais, a friend for years. “Her community service showed she really cared about the town and the people of the town. She really tried to help others.”
Town Manager Neil Harrington, also a Salem native, said he’d reminisce with Thomas whenever they’d meet.
“My experiences with Barbara were always very uplifting,” he said. “Every time she’d come into Town Hall, she would ask about things that would improve Salisbury. I found her a very caring person, and she’ll be greatly missed.”
Thomas died Aug. 30 at the age of 85 at Anna Jaques Hospital after a brief illness. Donations in her memory are being made to her favorite charities, Dana Farber Cancer Institute and Star of the Sea Church in Salisbury, where she was a faithful parishioner.