Meet 2017 OBA President Linda Thomas
By Lacey Plaudis
It is clear that Linda Thomas’ family has shaped her into the woman she is today and will continue to refine her in years to come. Being raised in a close-knit family, Linda grew up with her three brothers in Tulsa.
“I was born in San Antonio when my dad was in the Air Force and then my family moved to Stillwater when he was in college. When he graduated from OSU we moved to Tulsa, and so I spent most of my childhood,” she said.
While Linda enjoyed playing with dolls, she also played alongside her brothers with cars and trucks and led adventures in the backyard and neighborhood. “There are adventures that my brothers and I experienced that still even as adults we talk about,” she said. Her brothers have grown from siblings into best friends, and her sisters-in-law are now the sisters she never had.
When Linda was a teenager, her family moved to the southwest corner of Arkansas. They lived in the small town of Ashdown. As a student at Ashdown High School, she enjoyed both the academic and social parts of high school. She played on the tennis and basketball teams and was also a cheerleader.
“I played basketball when girls played threeon-three half court. Back in the ’70s girls played three on three half court so you either played offense or defense. I didn’t play any sports in college but instead focused on academics and graduated in three years,” she said.
After graduating high school in 1974, Linda pursued an undergraduate degree at a small private college in Arkansas. In 1977 she graduated cum laude from Ouachita Baptist University with a B.A. in speech pathology.
“I wanted to be in the public school, and I knew that [speech pathology] was at that time becoming a new program in the education field. I thought that would be a good door that would open for me,” she said.
After her graduation, she moved to Dequeen, Arkansas, where she worked in the local elementary school as the school’s first speech pathologist.
“I set that program up, and I did that for a few years until they needed a special education teacher. I taught special ed for a couple years and then went into the regular classroom teaching second grade,” she said.
BEGINNING OF A NEW CAREER
After a casual conversation with her dad, Linda began to think about a new career path. A path that would lead the way to her becoming our 2017 Oklahoma Bar Association president.
“My dad who had a big influence on me said to me one day, ‘have you ever thought about going to law school?’ At that time, I really had not thought about going to law school. Then over the next few weeks or months we talked about it, and decided that was something I really wanted to do. I applied at TU, got accepted and then moved to Bartlesville,” she said.
Linda’s parents were living in Bartlesville at the time, which was about an hour’s drive to TU. It was a balancing act for a few years, but the struggle created a unique and tender relationship between her children and their grandparents.
“The kids and I would get up in the morning and get ready for school. I’d drop them off at school, and I’d go teach all day. I’d pick them up from school, drop them off at my parents’ house and head over to Tulsa.
“My parents were really good about going with the kids to all their activities, their sporting activities or whatever they were doing. When I got home from law school usually between 9 and 9:30 p.m., I would pick them up from their house and head over to my house. It was a juggling act for a while. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without that support for sure,” she said.
The bonds that were made in those years certainly had a lasting impact on the family. She said, “It was invaluable to me because I think having that generational contact really made a huge impact in my own children’s lives. My kids are really, really close to their grandparents.”
EARLY LAW CAREER
In 1994 Linda graduated from the TU College of Law with her J.D. After passing the bar that same year, she began working part time for a local law firm. After a few months at the firm, Linda decided to join the late Glenn Davis in his practice.
“Glenn was my first mentor in the law. He helped me get new clients and tutored me during my early years of practice. He also taught me not to take myself too seriously,” she said.
Linda focuses her private practice in the area of all aspects of family law. Linda works and shares office space with five other lawyers, all men.
“I have the best of both worlds where I’m my own boss, but I have other lawyers, who are also my friends, that I can rely on for help and advice,” she said.
LOOKING INTO 2017
As Linda begins her year as the 2017 OBA president, she wants to assure that the many good programs already in place continue to grow and be nurtured. She said, “We have some excellent programs at the Oklahoma Bar Association and I want to make sure they continue to meet the needs of our association and the public.”
Linda’s aspirations also include promotion of OBA programs that 1) ensure all Oklahoma citizens have meaningful access to the justice system, 2) provide Oklahoma lawyers with an avenue to keep on top of the newest technology available and the threats that are out there and 3) focus on the fair, independent and impartial administration of justice. She said, “With 2017 bringing the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Judicial Nominating Commission, it is the perfect time to celebrate the benefits of the JNC and to promote the public’s understanding of the importance of the separation of powers and other important issues related to the public good and the practice of law.”
She is already working with President-Elect Kim Hays, Vice President Jennifer Castillo, and the members of the Board of Governors to strategize new ideas for the Annual Meeting. She said, “We want to make some changes to the Annual Meeting in 2017 that will perhaps bring more lawyers to the Annual Meeting in November and better meet their needs.”
A LEGACY OF FAMILY
Linda has said that if she wasn’t a lawyer her dream job would be that of a full-time grandmother. Practicing law has been a fulfilling experience for Linda and she believes it to be an extraordinary privilege. Many of the lessons she learned from her mother and father during childhood have carried over to the way she practices law. To her, it is important to treat everyone with respect and to give back and help others. In the practice of family law, she sees heartbreak and crisis but also families united and healed. It is a career that has made her appreciate her own family that much more.
Ms. Plaudis is an OBA communications specialist.
Reading, making homemade gifts for family/friends and spending time with my big extended family, especially my grandkids.
What accomplishment are you most proud of?
In my professional life, I’m most proud of being the Oklahoma Bar Association president. It’s quite an honor that the association elected me to be their leader. In my personal life, the thing that I’m most proud of is that I have three very successful children who are happy and healthy.
What’s the best advice you ever received?
Surround yourself with a small network of smart and positive people who want you to succeed — then let them help you.
Favorite holiday tradition?
Tamale dinner on Christmas Eve after Christmas Eve church service with the family
Big Brothers Big Sisters of America
Ten years from now where will you be?
Probably still practicing law and enjoying my grandchildren, doing just exactly what I’m doing now.
What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A school teacher
Who are you most like, your mom or your dad?
I’m a combination of both — I look like my mother, but my personality is more like my father’s.
Who was the biggest influence in your life?
It absolutely has to be my parents.
I didn’t really have a nickname, but my dad called me the “rose among the thorns.”
How has being involved in OBA activities been a benefit to your career?
I am constantly surrounded by smart, creative and dedicated lawyers from all over the state who are good sources of great advice and new ideas.
Oddest job you’ve held before becoming a lawyer?
When I was in high school, I was the designated “Christmas present wrapper” at the Ben Franklin store during the holidays.
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Most important quality a lawyer should have?
In 2011, then Chief Justice Steven W. Taylor told the new bar admittees during their swearing-in ceremony, “Learn to love justice more than you love victory.” That quote has been part of my email signature since then, and rarely a day goes by that I don’t consider the true meaning of that statement.
Best way to spend a day off?
Doing anything with my grandkids, whenever possible.
Suggestion for a fortune cookie message?
He who throws dirt is losing ground.
Favorite TV show?
Almost anything on the Food Network – Chopped, Restaurant Impossible, Cake Wars…
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- OBJ 88 pg. 79 (Jan. 21, 2017)