City bids farewell to loved matriarch

Jan. 09, 2014 @ 05:00 AM

Besides attesting to her admirable qualities, those who knew Isabel Thomas say the small community she called home will not be the same without her.

“Isabel was Miss Cameron; everybody loved her,” said longtime friend Audrey McPherson. The sentiments were similar from other friends and acquaintances of Thomas, who died Monday.

Thomas’s civic involvement spanned from church to government to business. She served as mayor in the 1990s, according to Cameron Town Clerk Carol Lucas, who credited her as starting the antiques street fair — which now draw thousands to the community each year and has cemented its status as a hub for collectibles.

The clerk also noted that Thomas was mayor when the Cameron Police Department was founded. 

“In my opinion, she was a great lady,” Lucas said. “She had the most Southern hospitality anyone could have. ... She was a great historian; she knew everything about Cameron. It was an honor to have been able to work with her.” 

Larry Coe, owner of This Old House Antiques, also emphasized Thomas’s role in founding the antique fair, noting that at one point, Thomas had four shops to her name. Many in the area will recall her as the proprietor of Miss Belle’s Antiques and Tea Room and the Greenwood Inn at a time before Cameron was replete with such establishments.

On a personal level, Coe said Thomas was “a sweet lady,” always willing to help someone and “full of life and fun” — as well as vision.

“Without her, there probably wouldn’t be antiques in Cameron,” Coe said.

While some may have preconceived notions about small communities, Thomas once told an area news outlet, “ ... To me, a little town puts its arms around you, and you feel a security, and a warmth.’’ According to longtime friend Doris Jean Harbour, her love for her home was mutual.  

“She meant more to Cameron than any other person who’s ever lived here,” Harbour said. “She did so much for Cameron.”

Audrey McPherson said she knew Thomas, who was a mother and grandmother, since the two went to school together. Her late friend was an intellectual with many talents, she recalled, and according to Audrey’s son, Jim McPherson, she had a flair for writing.

“Some of her poems tell a story ... , everything from stories about Christmas to stories about the railroad,” he said. “And [she was] one of the best scrapbookers who ever lived.”

Reinforcing others’ accounts of Thomas’s importance to Cameron, Jim McPherson said that had Thomas not seen potential in Cameron’s vacant structures, and inspired others to do the same, “a lot of buildings would have fallen in on themselves by now ... .”

Continuing to praise his former Sunday school teacher as “a very smart lady” who exemplified Christian character, McPherson added, “To know her was to love her; she was such a giving person ... . She’ll fit right in in heaven, that’s for sure.”

Thomas also lived her faith in her commitment to Cameron Presbyterian Church, where she played the piano and organ and served several other roles, according to the church’s pastor, the Rev. Whitney Wilkinson.  

Describing Thomas as “the heart of Cameron,” Wilkinson said, “She was passionate about this little community and making it thrive.”

A”wonderfully sarcastic” sense of humor was among Thomas’s many gifts, Wilkinson said, as were her vision and devotion — which gave Cameron “a vibrant identity.” 

“I’d imagine if heaven means we get to be in our ideal setting, then I think heaven will be a lot like Cameron for her,” Wilkinson said. “She was completely at home here, and she really has been the soul of this place. ... She left quite a legacy that we all need to carry on.”