Obituary: Charles J. Thomas Jr. / Dormont businessman sold flags, formal wear

Nov. 4, 1927 - June 13, 2013

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If you wanted to be formal or patriotic or both, Charles J. Thomas Jr. was the Dormont businessman to see for nearly four decades.

At his appropriately named former business, Thomas Flag and Formals on West Liberty Avenue, Mr. Thomas regaled customers with his sense of humor whether they were in the market for an American flag or a rented tuxedo.

"He had a flair with customers," said his daughter, LuAnne Caldwell of Franklin, Tenn. "He had a very outgoing personality."

Mr. Thomas of Baldwin Township died Thursday in St. Clair Hospital. He was 85.

He had been a star tackle on the football team of what was then Dormont High School. He was ranked the nation's second-best high school javelin thrower when he graduated in 1946. His athletic skills earned him 25 scholarship offers.

He chose a track and football scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh, where he played guard on the football team. He graduated from the university and became a lifelong supporter of the school.

Mr. Thomas served in the Navy from 1951 to 1955 and then returned home and worked in the family business started by his father in 1916, initially dry cleaning and tailoring. Then it became custom-made uniforms, then tailor-made clothes and finally flags in the 1930s.

Mr. Thomas purchased the business from his mother in 1968, four years after his father died.

The business once was about 75 percent tuxedo rentals, but the Persian Gulf War increased the demand for flags so much that it equaled the demand for formal wear.

In addition to American flags, Mr. Thomas also sold flags of states, foreign countries, corporations and civic organizations.

"Pitt got all of its flags from him. He had some big corporate customers, IBM and Alcoa," Ms. Caldwell said.

She said with a laugh that her father, who closed his business about six years ago, could be "crotchety" but "loved Dormont, the University of Pittsburgh, golf and the ocean." He had a timeshare in Long Boat Key, Fla.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Charles J. Thomas III of Tampa, Fla.; two sisters, Phyllis McKenzie of Oklahoma and Evelyn "Dolly" Burgess of Baldwin Township; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. today in Laughlin Memorial Chapel, 222 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon. Interment will be in Jefferson Memorial Park.

obituaries

Michael A. Fuoco: mfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1968.


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