Cover photo for Marie Abner Thomas's Obituary
Marie Abner Thomas Profile Photo
1942 Marie 2020

Marie Abner Thomas

November 18, 1942 — September 2, 2020

Marie Abner Thomas died Sept. 2, 2020. She was 77.

Marie was killed fighting off bears and wiping out snake pits with her favorite weapon, a grabber tool she called Picker Sticker.

“Mom was a snake killer extraordinaire,” her husband Jim said. “That’s French for extra ornery.”

That’s not exactly the truth — except the ornery part — but we all know how Mamaw loved some fight stories. The bigger the battle, the better.

No one would have guessed that her own story, and her biggest fight, would actually end with her losing to cancer.

Eventually, we are all just stories. Mamaw, however, is a legend. Unusual from the day
she was born, the woman lived bigger and bolder than most.

Indomitable in spirit, she taught us to fight. She fought every day of her life … whether she needed to or not. She fought for love, for respect, and just for the fun of kicking the world in its butt. Most of all, she taught us what it means to fight for family. No one could cross hers and get away with it. Ask the teacher whose hair she yanked half out for picking on her son. Or ask the five schoolmates young Marie beat with a hair brush for making fun of her and her daddy.

She was a beloved wife, mother, Mamaw, sister and friend. She was a faithful Christian and a longtime member of St. Mildred Catholic Church in Somerset.

She was the daughter of the late Floyd and Maudie Jackson Abner of Knox County. She was preceded in death by two sisters, Dorothy Jean Abner and Myrtle Hopper; six brothers, Lloyd, Otis, Walter, Denver, Billy and Ronnie Wayne Abner; brother-in-law Densil Cooper; son-in-law Paul Vaught; daughter-in-law Ginny Thomas and grandson Jameson Tristan Kraft.

Survivors include husband James E. Thomas Jr.; sisters, Delora Wilson and husband Walter, Lucy Cooper, Mary Sue Vaughn and husband Roy; sons, James E. Thomas III and wife Cathy, David Thomas and wife Ruth Ann, Robert Thomas and wife Stephanie; daughters, Angela Vaught and fiancé Greg Underwood, Kimberly Stewart and husband Jason; Heather Florian and sidekick Jeremiah Strunk; 17 grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.

Marie grew up mountain poor and scrappy in the way that mountain poor makes you. She was half wild in her youth, fiercely independent, and she raised a brood of siblings who ran wild with her. The world learned early that Marie Abner wasn’t going to follow its rules. She wouldn’t even pretend she needed to.

She was a spitfire. She could unleash a fury that would shrivel lesser beings. She wasn’t perfect, but she was perfect for us.

Growing up with Mama Marie was an adventure. She was vibrant — loving and nurturing, hot-headed
and bold. And brave. Brave until the bitter end, when cancer wound its way around her body.

Let none of us forget the stories she told us or the lessons she taught us:

• Talk to strangers.
You never know who might need kind words or help, or who might end up being your best friend.

• Fight ALL the fights. Oh, you have a bully? Don’t come to Mama for any politically correct tell-the-teacher business. Not Marie’s kids.

“If you don’t take your part in a fight, I’ll whoop you myself and send you back for more.”

And yes, she practiced what she preached. If you don’t believe it, ask the neighbor lady who once stomped up to our back door to shriek at Mom over a barking dog that wasn’t even ours. She screamed in Mom’s face, then jabbed her finger at Mom’s neck and chest. Mom didn’t yell, didn’t argue. She grabbed that lady, spun her around, planted her foot on a skinny butt and sent her flopping down the stairs. A pack of Mom’s kids stood giggling as the lady rubbed her butt, screaming that she was going to have Mom arrested for hitting someone with glasses. “You should have told me,” Mom smart-mouthed, “I’d have taken your glasses off first.”

Mama never bowed out of a fight or backed down from a challenge. That model of inner strength has never been more important than now, when all of us who love her feel like we’re fighting just to breathe without her. By Mother’s bed near the end, Heather pondered whether she might die of a broken heart. “No way,” Kim told her, “if you tag out early, Mom will whoop your ass and send you back down here.”

• Share what you have. Once, her daughter Angie saw a young man and a dog resting outside a building near Mama’s house. She stopped and asked if he needed help or something to eat. No, he said. The lady in the house on the hill already brought him some food and some water for his dog. That, of course, was Mom.

• “It’s not the place. It’s what you make of it.” The first time Mama said this to Kim, she was in a miserable teen phase. Kim didn’t want to hear good advice. It was easier to blame a whole town, move on and burn the prairie behind her. But she figured she’d stick it out a while, probably just to prove Mama wrong.

Mama, of course, was not wrong. Kim made something of that place, and every place thereafter. The advice she took so grudgingly changed her mindset. The moral to the story? Don’t make excuses for your troubles. Fix them. Mama never put up with circumstances she didn’t like. She didn’t put up with anything.

She always had a plan. And that’s the thing about Mama. She taught us that no matter what craziness or chaos we’re facing, we are never powerless. We can always do better, be better, make things come out right. And if you couldn’t, well — you just called Mama. Lord knows she had a knack for telling folks what to do.

• Love your family. She was selfless in a way that people aren’t anymore. Endlessly loving. Anyone who knows her knows what it is to be loved by her. There has never been a safer place in the universe than wrapped in her arms. Once, a teacher sent Heather to the school counselor.

Heather had a habit of doodling “I love my mommy,” and the teacher decided Heather was too attached to her mother.

That lady likely regretted it when Mama showed up, dragged her out of class, penned her against a wall and laid down the law: “You can raise your daughters how you want, but I’m gonna raise mine to love me and anybody else as hard as she can. If you don’t like it, you can lump it.”

• Tell brilliant stories. She used to tell the best stories about our family, about growing up in the mountains, about ghosts and gunshots and mountain legends and aliens and Big Foot and wild things that haunted the hills and hollers.

• Trust your instincts. Mother’s intuition is legendary. How many times did Mama call you right when you needed her? Once, Dad was in a car wreck Mama sensed from miles away. She was home, picking up something, when she shot up straight, said “Jimmy’s had a wreck,” and flew out the door.

If you’re troubled, she’s going to appear. When David was in grade school, Mom was home watching TV when she suddenly got up and told Kim, who hadn’t started school yet, to get dressed.

“The school’s about to call,” she said, “We’ve gotta go get your brother.” The phone rang as they were leaving. “I’ll be right there,” she said. David was sick. That’s not the only time that happened. We took it for granted that whenever we needed her, she’d just know.

• Make things special. She always did. From Sunday dinners and birthday cakes to Christmases full of carols and banana pudding and hugs and gifts and memories, Mother, always made things special.
But the most important lesson Mamaw ever taught us is how to raise our own sons and daughters.

If you were lucky enough to be loved by her, you were lucky enough. The volume of her love was staggering. That is a lesson for which we all will be eternally grateful. We could have had no better teacher.

Visitation will be 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at Morris & Hislope Funeral Home in Science Hill, with the funeral set for 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Mildred Catholic Church, 201 S. Central St.

Visitation will also be held from 12:00 to 1:00 PM on Saturday at St. Mildred Catholic Church.

Burial will be Science Hill Cemetery.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made in her name to God’s Food Pantry.

Morris & Hislope Funeral Home is in charge of the arrangements.

Condolences may be expressed to the family at: www.morrisandhislope.com

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Marie Abner Thomas, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Funeral Service

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Starts at 1:00 pm (Eastern time)

St. Mildred's Catholic Church

203 S Central Ave, Somerset, KY 42501

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