Charles F. Thomae
Charles F. Thomae, 87
Dateline: Norton, MA
Charlie Thomae passed from this life in
the early morning hours of April 30th, 2019. He was 87
His death marked the end of a long battle with Parkinson’s
Disease. Throughout its trials, he never paused to
despair, maintaining the cheerful, engaging personality he
was known for while focusing on the sources of his greatest
joys: His family, his community, and his many spectacular
He was born Charles Frank Thomae in Attleboro on March 17th, 1932
to a family of tool makers and artisans. He was the second
child and only son of Charles Gustav Thomae, a Silversmith
and Attleboro’s Fire Commissioner, and Elsa Matilda Thomae (nee
Jepson), a nurse and Swedish immigrant.
He had a happy childhood and a youth that presaged the life of
service that would follow. A graduate of Attleboro High
School, he studied engineering at Wentworth and served in
the U.S. Naval Reserve before joining the family silversmith
business, Charles Thomae & Son, on Maynard Street in
Attleboro. A lifelong patron of the Boy Scouts of America,
he beamed when each of his four grandsons earned the rank of
Eagle Scout. In 1955 he joined the Norton Fire Department,
where he served as a volunteer firefighter for over 50
years. Rising to the rank of Captain, he designed and
oversaw the installation of the town’s municipal fire
alarm system as Superintendent of Alarms. The rigors of
firefighting, coming to aid those in crisis, and the
comradery it brought gave him immense satisfaction and
While still in grade school he met Diane Lees, whose family ran
the local chapter of the MSPCA. They married on July 17th,
1954 and moved to Norton, where they built a home and
maintained a small farm on Oak Street. Two daughters,
Leesa and Suzanne soon followed.
Charles and Diane instilled a love for animals in their
daughters, raising sheep and horses for show in 4-H
competitions. Their dogs were particularly cherished; they
raised numerous Keeshonds, always steadfastly loyal and
impeccably groomed. Later, their granddaughter Alexandra’s career
in veterinary medicine was a source of particular pride.
In 1956 the couple constructed a house in Wellfleet, Cape Cod.
The home on Indian Neck served as the center of the couple's
active social life for decades. Diane kept house through
the week. Charlie arrived on weekends, in later years
with grandchildren in tow, piled into a fire engine red Ford
pickup to share the boating and beaches he so enjoyed.
He assumed control of Charles Thomae & Son
in 1982. A gifted tool maker, he maintained the
company's singular focus on beautiful, heirloom quality
goods in sterling silver. It was an American
manufacturer in the best sense. Those that worked at the
factory tended to stay for decades, becoming something
closer to family than employees. Their dedication and
the pride they took in their craft meant the world to him.
And Charlie's world was always under
construction. The arc of his life could be traced as a
series of projects. They were often practical,
sometimes peculiar, but always ambitious. As a young
man he purchased a decommissioned hearse, chopped the top
off, and used it to pick up Diane on their first date.
A windmill was erected on the farm. An elevator was
installed at the factory. Engines were swapped, diesel
always replacing gasoline. A forty-foot trawler's hull
was cut in half to add three feet of deck space.
Possessed with a near boundless energy and often
single-minded focus, his efforts enveloped anyone
nearby. His wife, his colleagues, his daughters and
their husbands, his grandchildren and their friends; all
were enlisted to the cause. He constructed a full
size, functioning helicopter from a mail order kit,
modifying the design as he saw fit. Diane, her small
stature more conducive to take off, served as its
pilot. When cranberries growing on the farm were found
to be a unique variety, Charlie patented the fruit, giving
it the name Gustav after his grandfather. A large earth
moving and irrigation project ensued to create a bog so that
the berries could be cultivated. His completed every
job he started, but none were ever truly finished. A
bow thruster was added to the trawler; a stronger water pump
added to the cranberry bog. The adjustments were
endless. It was always about the process.
Age and Parkinson's could not staunch his ambition. Only a few
years ago, he converted the bare hull of a salvaged Navy
transport into a working steamboat, powered by a boiler
intended for a train. Friends, family, and curious
onlookers gathered in Wellfleet Harbor to witness its maiden
voyage. None could mistake the look of pride on his
He was frustrated by the inevitable results of his condition.
It robbed him of the work he loved most. And Diane's
passing in July 2015 left him heartbroken. But he
always brightened at the sight of family, and the many
friends who visited and called in recent months. Your
care gave him strength and great happiness.
Charlie is predeceased by his parents, his sister Mildred and her husband
Jarvis, and his beloved Diane. He survived by his
daughters Leesa and Suzanne, and their husbands, Steven F. Crogan and Ross J. Forbes, all of Norton, as well as five
grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
He was slow to anger and quick to smile. He was kind and generous to
a fault. He is and will forever be deeply missed.
His funeral service, to which relatives and friends are cordially invited to attend, will be held on Wednesday, May 8th at 10:00 A.M. at the Norton Memorial Funeral Home, 19 Clapp St. (Off Route 140, Taunton Ave.) Norton. Burial will follow at the Norton Common Cemetery in Norton.
Visiting hours will be held on Tuesday, May 7th from 5:00-8:00 P.M. at the Norton Memorial Funeral Home.
In lieu of flowers, donations in Charlie’s memory may be made to the Norton Ambulance Gift Fund, 70 East Main St., Norton, MA 02766.
To send his family a message of condolence, please visit www.nortonmemorial.com