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MISSOULA - Bernard W. Thomas, 88, formerly of Chinook, a retired Montana District Court judge, died on Jan. 6, 2004, at a Missoula hospital of natural causes.

A parish vigil service will be at 7 p.m. on Friday at Pope John XXIII Catholic Community with the Rev. Matthew Huber officiating. A funeral

Mass will be at 10 a.m. on Saturday at the church with the Rev. Frank McCormick celebrant. Burial will follow at the Old St. Mary's Cemetery in Missoula.

Bernard was born in Terry on Jan. 26, 1915, to Prairie County homesteaders Ivan Edward and Marie (Bannon) Thomas. His father was a longtime Prairie County official. Bernard graduated from Terry High School in 1933. He attended Montana Normal College in Dillon and received a teacher's certificate.

Bernard taught for two years in rural Prairie County schools. In 1936 he came to Missoula to attend the university. Like many college students of the Depression Era, he worked at odd jobs to make ends meet. One of those jobs was a summer working in the Archie Bray brickyards in Helena. Bernard received his law degree in 1940 and was admitted to the Montana Bar.

In September 1940, Bernard arrived in Chinook to practice law with Harry Burns. With the onset of American involvement in World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in January 1942 and was commissioned as an ensign and later promoted to lieutenant. He served in the Navy Armed Guard as commanding officer on the S.S. Brander Matthews and later on the S.S. W.L.R. Emmet. Much of his duty time was spent in the South Pacific, but he also served as a judge advocate in Seattle.

In January 1946, Bernard was discharged from the Navy and returned to Chinook to resume his law practice. It was at this time that he met Elise Wipf, a home demonstration agent with the Blaine County Extension Service. After a brief courtship, they were married on June 1, 1946, at Holy Rosary Church in Bozeman.

Bernard's law career developed in Chinook and Blaine County. In 1951 he began a six-year tenure as Blaine County attorney. In 1956 he was elected for one term to the Montana House of Representatives of Blaine County. He returned to private practice in 1957 and was appointed to the Montana State Board of Pardons in 1961. In October 1967, he was appointed judge for the Montana Twelfth Judicial District, which at that time included Hill, Blaine and Liberty counties. He was retained as judge in the 1968, 1972 and 1976 elections. During his time on the bench, Judge Thomas was known for his fairness and studied decisions. He was an active member of the Montana judiciary and was involved in the Five States Judges Conference. He retired in 1983, but returned active as a senior-status judge for several years. He also served the Montana Water Court as judge for the Lower Missouri River Basin. He was a member of the Montana Bar Association for more than 60 years and a member of the American Bar Association since 1955.

Bernard generously gave of his time and talent to the Chinook and Blaine County communities. He was a member of the Chinook Lions Club, American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Eagles and the Knights of Columbus. He was instrumental in helping establish the Sweet Memorial Nursing Home and served as board secretary for many years. He was an active member of St. Gabriel's Catholic Parish, serving in many lay capacities. Keenly interested in local history, he was a member of the Montana Historical Society and a supporter of the Blaine County Museum. Many other community organizations benefited from his volunteer contributions.

In 1992 Bernard and Elise moved to the Village Senior Residence in Missoula to be closer to family. Much of Bernard's later life was spent caring for Elise during her final illness. In Missoula he was an active member of Pope John XXIII Catholic community. He was an avid supporter of the University of Montana and a regular participant in law school functions.

Bernard was preceded in death by his wife, Elise, on March 25, 1999; sisters, Hazel D. McCarthy and Sister Peter Claver (Lucille); and brother, Lawrence B. Thomas.

Survivors include his children, David E. Thomas of Missoula, Anne E. (Lee) Kilcup of Sammamish, Wash., William A. Thomas of Missoula, John B. Thomas of Helena, James L. Thomas of Issaquah, Wash., and Christopher L. (Vicki) Thomas of Bellevue, Wash.; brother, Ed (Lois) Thomas of Spokane; and grandchildren, Alison L. Thomas, Kerri R. Thomas and Kyle J. Thomas, all of Bellevue, Wash.

Memorials may be made to the Poverello Center of Missoula or a local Chinook charity.

Arrangements are by Garden City Funeral Home in Missoula.


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