H. Powers Thomas, 78, is being remembering as skilled tennis player, talented pianist, keen gardener, successful businessman and insurance agent, as well as a raconteur of note, jokester, writer, innovator, lover of community and an “all around good guy,” following his death Feb. 15 at his home in Leesburg.
Thomas had an infectious laugh, a sparkle and enjoyment of life, and a keen interest in his surroundings and in people that touched all with whom he came in contact.
Whether it was with pals of his youth hunting along Catoctin Creek near Waterford, classmates at Loudoun County High School’s first graduating class in 1959, or fellow members of Leesburg insurance firm AH&T, there was never a dull moment in his company.
Thomas was born in Winchester, and lived in Hamilton as a young child, before his parents moved to Round Hill.
As his boyhood friend, Bowman Cutter, recalled, “We knew each other roughly from age 12 on. He was always friendly and funny—and an intense competitor.”
The two were part of a group of boys roughly the same age from the Waterford, Leesburg and Purcellville area. The county’s population was about 21,000 in 1950, and Cutter said one has to remember how “incredibly small the county was at that time’”
Thomas attended Randolph Macon College—pursuing studies in political science. After graduation, while waiting to hear from several law schools to which he’d applied, the only “acceptance” he got was from the U.S. Navy when he was drafted in 1965. After a year writing press releases, he left the Navy. That experience and love of the written word would stay with him.
When searching for work, Thomas did not have the family insurance business, Armfield, Harrison & Thomas, at the top of his list. But his father, J. Holmes Thomas, always wanted his son to follow him into the business, and set him to work his way from the bottom up, so that he knew all facets of the company as well as its personnel.
To the his surprise, Thomas found he liked the insurance business—finding it intellectually challenging and complex. While never an “A” student in school or college, he was very persuasive, as well as enthusiastic—characteristics that would stood him in good stead.
That trait, along with his ability to put clients at ease, was part of his success in the business. As his father had hoped, Thomas did indeed reach the top—being named president of Armfield, Harrison & Thomas, Inc. in 1981. From that date, Thomas helped build the company into one of the largest independently owned agencies in the Mid-Atlantic region.
He retired from the company 16 years later—a decision with which Thomas later regretted. After three years, he got back in the fray, joining the Erie Insurance Group to open the Powers Thomas Insurance company. Within 10 years, he had 700 accounts, in mixed personal and commercial business.
During his career, Thomas held numerous board directorships and affiliations, including First American Bank, Loudoun National Bank, National Association Executives Club, and the Independent Insurance Agents of America, where he served on a number of major committees. He was also appointed to the Industrial Development Authority of Loudoun County and was a founding member of the Northern Virginia Technology Council. He was recognized in 1978 as a key insurance agent for his outstanding service to policy holders.
He served as the Loudoun United Way chairman in 1985, calling the United Way campaign “a trulyunitedfundraising effort.” He urged involvement of the professional community along with expanding the campaign into the rapidly developing eastern area of the county—resulting in an 11 percent increase over the 1984 campaign.
As a top Loudoun insurance agent, Thomas was recognized and respected widely throughout the state, including as chairman of the Independent Insurance Agents of Virginia. AH&T was also recognized as the Membership Agency of the Year by the leading trade publicationRough Notesin 1997.
Retired AH&T President Howard Armfield attributed some successful company innovations to Thomas. “He always had great people skills,” and recognized the importance of rewarding employees for what they contributed to the company in ideas and talents.
“He was instrumental in establishing an employee stock ownership program in the agency,” Armfield said.
AHT had its beginnings in 1921. Armfield’s daughter, Kate Armfield, has followed in her father and grandfather’s footsteps, and serves as chief operating officer for the company today. She cited Thomas’s strengths as his “passion for the business, his unique ability to find and attract talented people, focus on customers, and attention to details.”
Thomas was predeceased by his father J. Holmes Thomas and his mother Glennis Powers of South Hill. He is survived by his wife Carolyn Thomas of Leesburg; his sister Betty Glenn Thomas Perriguey, of Nipomo, CA; and six nieces and nephews.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contribution may be made to the United Way of the National Capital Area, designated to the Loudoun County Impact Fund #9005, and sent to 1577 Spring Hill Road, #420, Vienna, VA 22182.