Jeanette Thomas was Widow of Disney’s Animator Frank Thomas

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Jeanette Thomas

Jeanette Thomas

Jeanette Armen­trout Thomas, the widow of leg­endary Dis­ney ani­ma­tor Frank Thomas (one of Walt Disney’s renowned “Nine Old Men”), died Sat­ur­day at Hunt­ing­ton Hos­pi­tal in Pasadena, Cal­i­for­nia from age-related ill­nesses. She was 91.

She was promi­nently fea­tured in sev­eral doc­u­men­taries directed by her son Theodore (“Ted”), includ­ing Frank & Ollie and Walt and El Grupo. She was also a long­time docent at Pasadena’s his­toric Gam­ble House, and authored an acclaimed 1989 book called Images of the Gam­ble House: Mas­ter­work of Greene & Greene.

My mother was beau­ti­ful, poised, accom­plished, but would become a bit incred­u­lous if we would point out any of these qual­i­ties to her,” recalled her son.

She took a deep, empa­thetic inter­est in the lives of her chil­dren, rel­a­tives, and friends, and our tri­umphs as well as our stum­bles were felt just as much by her. My par­ents took joy in hav­ing found each other, and cer­tainly they helped to make life stim­u­lat­ing and reward­ing for all of us in their sphere.”

Jeanette Armen­trout was born in 1921 and raised in Gree­ley, Col­orado, where her father was vice-president of the Col­orado State Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion, now the Uni­ver­sity of North­ern Col­orado. She attended Stephens Col­lege in Colum­bus, Mis­souri, and then received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity. She taught in Cal­i­for­nia sec­ondary schools and at the Col­orado State Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, and in 1946 mar­ried vet­eran Dis­ney ani­ma­tor Frank Thomas.

In his 2001 Dis­ney Edi­tions book Walt Disney’s Nine Old Men & the Art of Ani­ma­tion, Oscar-winning ani­ma­tion director/author John Cane­maker recounted Frank’s courtship with Jeanette and the young animator’s impres­sions of his future bride:

In 1945, after the war, she took a job teach­ing high school in Red­wood City, Cal­i­for­nia, near Palo Alto,” says Thomas, who was smit­ten after their ini­tial meet­ing and had ‘writ­ten let­ters to her all along.’ Now that Ms. Armen­trout was sud­denly ‘in the back yard’ (that is, in Cal­i­for­nia) their let­ters became more spe­cific. ‘It took me three and a half years, and a war, and teach­ing, to real­ize that he was pretty spe­cial,’ says Jeanette.”

Thomas went on to send Jeanette a musi­cal piece he had writ­ten titled ‘Con­certo by Me,’ which friends told him sounded like a pro­posal. ‘Good things hap­pened pretty fast after that,’ recalled Thomas, who stretched a fifty-mile limit three-day pass to travel 200 miles to visit Jeanette. ‘So we pro­posed to each other and we decided what we were going to do,’ he said.”

Thomas was dis­charged from the ser­vice in Jan­u­ary 1946, and the cou­ple was mar­ried in Col­orado on Feb­ru­ary 16. They were mar­ried for 58 years up until Frank’s death in 2004.

In addi­tion to being the mother of four chil­dren, Ann, Gregg, Theodore, and Dou­glas, Jeanette was exten­sively involved with the PTA, the Amer­i­can Field Ser­vice, taught music in the La Cañada schools, and was an early and active docent at the Gam­ble House in Pasadena. Her 1989 book Images of the Gam­ble House show­cased an exten­sive and inti­mate knowl­edge of the his­tory and archi­tec­ture of the Crafts­man mas­ter­piece. For her efforts, she received awards from both the Gam­ble House Docent Coun­cil, and the City of Pasadena.

She is sur­vived by her son Gregg, her son Theodore and his wife, Kuniko Okubo, her son Dou­glas and his hus­band, Dan Poirier, three grand­chil­dren, and one great-granddaughter. Funeral ser­vices will be pri­vate. Plans for a life cel­e­bra­tion will be announced later.

In lieu of flow­ers, the fam­ily asks that dona­tions be made to the Young Musi­cians Foun­da­tion, 195 South Bev­erly Drive, Suite 414, Bev­erly Hills, CA 90212, (310) 859‑7668, or www.ymf.org/donate.

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About TammiToon

TT has been with the BCDB for a long time, and is the resident Hanna-Barbera expert. Tammi loves the old show, and keeps up with the nes ones, too. You can reach her here.

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