See that guy in the photo sitting next to me at the Rays game?
That’s Jeff Thomas. I’ve known him longer than anyone outside of my own siblings.
We grew up in the Detroit suburb of Sterling Heights, and met in 10th grade at Stevenson High School. That was in 1973 — we’ve been friends for 50 years.
That’s crazy to even think about. We’re both turning 65 this year though looking at the photo, one of us looks a lot younger and I’m too polite to say who that is.
I don’t recall how we ended up buddies but we did and have lots of funny memories. We were high school debate partners, though Jeff was much better at it. We hung out together, snuck beers together and I pretty much followed his every lead.
After graduation, Jeff left for Central Michigan University while I attended community college with zero idea what to do with my life. After two years, I followed Jeff to CMU where I surprised myself with a degree in journalism while Jeff pursued a path in broadcasting.
Our paths split but we stayed in touch. I didn’t go far — Big Rapids, about an hour northwest of CMU — for my first job at a small daily newspaper.
Jeff spent his early years in small-town radio. South Haven, Michigan and then someplace I never heard of in Wisconsin.
Jeff’s broadcasting career soared. He was working in West Palm Beach at the same time I decided to move to Florida. I recall watching a Christmas boat parade on the Intercoastal outside his apartment thinking, I can’t get here fast enough.
Then to Baltimore and, finally, his current destination, Los Angeles, where he’s a big time VP of advertising with iHeart Radio and successful as heck.
Been out to California to visit with Jeff and his wife, Paddi, three times. During one of those visits, we flew to San Francisco for a night.
Jeff had a very active role in my sobriety. I’ll keep the details between us, but I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t be where I am today, sober and healthy, without my friend.
We texted each night during the Rays-Dodgers World Series, played entirely in Texas during the pandemic.
He sent me a text a few weeks ago to note that the Dodgers would be visiting Tampa Bay. I immediately suggested he fly out here and that’s what he did, making a great weekend of it.
Typical of Jeff, he used his radio connections to get great seats (unfortunately, behind the Dodgers dugout) and one of his co-workers in Clearwater provided us passes to something called the Rays Club — complimentary food, drink and great seats along the first-base line.
I had never heard of the Rays Club and, sure enough, both Friday and Saturday games I ran into someone from Citrus County who reads Just Wright Citrus. No joke.
(Note to self: Place “Rays Club” atop the agenda at our next Just Wright Citrus annual meeting.)
For some reason, Jeff became interested in my blog, reading it on occasion from the Left Coast and sending me messages wondering why things are so screwy in Citrus County.
We were talking a few months back and he mentioned the blog. He said he was proud of me and I nearly teared up.
Funny how life goes on but connections stay the same. We’re not the party guys from our Central Michigan days, but it’s much different.
I remember visiting with Jeff in California a few weeks before my first sober anniversary. We hadn’t seen each other in quite some time and he had never been around me when I wasn’t drinking.
We had conversations. Late at night, when his wife and my daughter were asleep, we talked in his kitchen. I don’t recall the details, but it was two old friends sharing our lives, our wants, our fears, our ambitions. That was 16 years ago and I remember it like yesterday.
There’s no point to this Friday blog. I just wanted to write a little about my friend, to let him know that 50 years is a very big deal.
Have a great weekend, my Citrus County friends.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.