Gary Thomas, a longstanding civic leader in the San Fernando Valley, died March 6 at the age of 61 during a hospital stay for a respiratory ailment. Thomas was one of the founding chairs of the Valley Economic Alliance and spent years in civic leadership with organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of the West Valley; he served as chairman for the organization for 10 years. Jan Sobel, former chief executive of the club, told the Business Journal she and Thomas would converse almost daily. “We became best friends … we could finish each other’s sentences,” said Sobel, who served as chief executive for more than 11 years. “Gary was a dreamer. He would come up with the most amazing ideas. A lot of volunteers come up with amazing ideas while they’re with a nonprofit organization, but what made Gary unique is that Gary would follow through.” Thomas is credited with bolstering the number of club members from 200 to about 3,400 and helped facilitate the organization’s Canoga Park location, which opened in 2004 and benefitted from a nearly $1 million fundraising effort. Thomas worked with one of his brothers as a senior vice president and creative director at Aaron Thomas & Associates, a Chatsworth company specializing in creative consulting, printing and direct mail services. He won the Fernando Award for his volunteerism in 2011, a significant honor to those who have devoted their time and energy to enrich the Valley. Thomas’ father Fred also won the Fernando Award in 1988. “His father raised Gary and his brothers, and quite frankly it affected their friends; they lived their lives as Eagle scouts,” said Randy Witt, who chairs the Valley Economic Alliance and recently became chair of the Fernando Award Foundation “They were always there to help, to pitch in, to give back.” “I’ve never heard anyone say anything other than positive things about Gary Thomas in two decades,” added Marty Cooper, president of Cooper Communications in Encino and fellow board member for the West Valley Boys & Girls Club. “That goes to the type of person he was. Gary was the kind of person that you took a problem to and he would try to solve it.” Thomas served with numerous other organizations, including the Chatsworth Chamber of Commerce, United Chambers of the San Fernando Valley, Valley Business Corps, San Fernando Valley Business Advisory Commission and as a board member of the Fernando Awards. “Gary Thomas was our right-hand man for the Fernando Awards,” said David Honda, owner of DS Honda Construction, in an email to the Business Journal. “The four years that I chaired the Fernando Awards, Gary took on the role of governance for nomination and voting processing for the organization.” Friends of Thomas said he was admitted to the hospital five weeks ago, had a setback and passed away.