“Harry K. Thomas Sr. was 83, a veteran of two wars, including service in the Philippines but I cannot help but think that if he had received successful treatment, he could have visited me in Manila and we could have gone to Leyte together, where he served in the Army with resilient Filipinos and he could have seen why this country, the Philippines is the ideal place for me to serve.
In the summer of 2002, I learned that I would become ambassador to Bangladesh in 2003. I believe that my father willed himself to live to see his grandchildren and great-grand children continue in school and attend the grand swearing in ceremony in the State Department’s magnificent Benjamin Franklin Room.
In July 2004, I returned home to New York City on leave. My mom and sister had been doing yeoman’s work accompanying Daddy to the doctor and following his progress but while on vacation, I wanted to help. There was little that I could do to assist. The saddest moment was accompanying him to the doctor for his chemo therapy and having the physician tell us that he had only six months to live. Daddy was stoic and so was I as that was how he raised me. I admired his strength but wondered how he could be so calm in the face of certain death. Perhaps it was because of his unrelenting faith. I returned to Bangladesh but inside a little piece of me had died inside the doctor’s office.
A few months later, I came back to see daddy for the last time. He was hospitalized when I arrived and was angry that I had left my post to be with him. For daddy, it was always “Duty, Honor, Country,” first and he worried that I was abandoning my post. I assured that I was not. My mother told me how daddy carried articles on my achievements in Bangladesh in his briefcase, eager to show anyone who asked or did not. I was not surprised because he once walked into Sunday Church service, interrupted Mother and told her that Condoleezza Rice had hired me to work in the White House.
Shortly after my return, the doctors told us that daddy’s time on this good earth was nearing its end. We cared for him at home because my mom was determined that the only man she loved and married for 57 triumphant years would pass at home. In his last days, Daddy could barely talk and needed complete hospice care but my lasting memory was watching him summon the strength to speak to his two great grandchildren.
We had hospice help, but his family of nephews, nieces and cousins took turns taking care of Daddy. It was not easy to watch him wither away.
I needed to go to Washington and had scheduled a meeting with my former boss Dr. Rice at the White House. Prior to departing, I told Daddy that he was the best father in the world and thanked him for sacrificing his savings to educate us. The truth is that I knew my hero was about to die and I could not bear the thought of watching him pass away. That night, my devoted cousin Sharon phoned me in my Washington hotel to say that my father had passed. My cousin Ray offered to drive into Washington to be with me. I declined as I needed to be alone. The next day I went to the White House to meet Dr. Rice, I did not mention Daddy as I knew he would have expected me to do my duty without mentioning my loss.”