Bulletin Staff Report
Over two decades before the Brownwood Lions were destined to win their first state football championship, local fans enjoyed watching a running back who went on to become one of the best collegiate players of his era at Texas A&M University, helping the Aggies win a national championship as a junior in 1939.
But Jim Thomason’s greatest heroics may have come not on the football field, but during World War II, when as a B-25 pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force he flew 65 combat missions in the South Pacific.
“He could have come home earlier after completing a certain number of missions, but he volunteered to continue flying,” John Arthur Thomason of Brownwood said Monday.
“Jim deserves to be remembered, and I say that not just because he’s my brother. He may have been the best all-around athlete Brownwood has ever seen.”
James Neal Thomason of Brenham died Saturday at his home following a lengthy illness, and funeral services will be held this afternoon at Brenham Church of Christ. He was 87.
Jim Thomason won acclaim as a star on both offense and defense for the Lions, leading the district in scoring as a junior and senior. He played fullback, halfback, safety and defensive back, and also saw duty as a punter. Once, kicking from behind his own goal line, he fired a punt more than 50 yards, statistics kept by John Thomason show.
He was named to the Texas High School Coaches Association annual all-star game in Waco in 1937, and on the second day of practice replaced an all-state running back.
But he also was a standout in other sports. At Brownwood High, he won the shot put, discus and javelin at a county track meet, won the shot and discus at district and claimed both crowns at the regional meet, setting a record for discus. At the state track meet, Thomason took second in the shot and third in discus, scoring one point short of half of the Lions’ overall points as Brownwood came in second.
Thomason, who graduated from BHS in 1937, was president of his sophomore and junior classes and student body president as a senior.
He continued his success in multiple sports at Texas A&M, where he majored in accounting and served as a major in the Corps of Cadets and served as its intelligence officer. He was All-Southwest Conference blocking back and linebacker in 1939 and 1940, and was a co-captain of the 1940 SWC co-champions that beat Fordham in the Cotton Bowl. He was later named the best blocking back in 25 years of Cotton Bowl play, and picked for two All-American teams.
Also while at A&M, Thomason won the Fat Stock Show Track Meet in Fort Worth as a freshman, claiming first place while setting a record in shot put and winning third in discus. As a sophomore, he won the SWC shot put event, and was the track team captain as a senior.
He was drafted by the Detroit Lions, for whom he played one season after World War II ended. While in the service, he played on the Army All-Star team against five professional teams in a three-week span, and coached an Army base football team in South Carolina.
“Thomason is the key man of Coach Homer Norton’s No. 1 team of the nation,” Houston Post sports writer Lloyd Gregory wrote of the Aggies’ team in 1940. “Jim is a superlative blocker, a fleet, elusive ball carrier, a fine pass receiver.”
Thomason teamed with John Kimbrough in the A&M backfield, and was often called upon to clear the way for Kimbrough.
Gregory, who described himself as a Thomason fan, related a conversation he had with another sports writer about that powerful backfield.
“ ‘Thomason is a better blocker than he is a ball carrier,’ someone commented in the press box last Saturday. This scribe… replied, ‘The trouble is, Thomason can’t block for Thomason!’”
Jim Thomason returned to Brownwood after his playing days and started his accounting career here with his older brother, John Arthur Thomason.
He was married to Marilyn Maddox in 1947, and together they raised five daughters.
He was named to the Texas A&M Athletic Hall of Fame in 1972, the Texas High School Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Gordon Wood Hall of Champions in 2001.