Peters recently commented on his colleague and friend, “I hunted with Don a lot; he was a better shot than I was. He was very quiet, with a soft voice. You could hardly hear him in a group, and I guess that’s good, because it makes you stop and listen. He was very bright, interested in all avenues of research.” Peters also stressed the role of Thomas’ wife, Dottie, as “a very important member of the team. She managed all of his literature and research affairs, and his role as a family.”
According to an obituary published in the New York Times, Thomas was born on March 15, 1920, in Mart, Texas, about 100 miles south of Dallas. He was the only child of Dr. Edward E. Thomas, a general practitioner, and Angie Hill Donnall, a teacher. He learned to hunt and fish, and as an adult, he would unwind after a hard day by reloading shells.
He studied chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin, receiving his bachelor’s degree in 1941 and his master’s degree in 1943.
To pay for his education, he worked odd jobs around campus. After a shift waiting tables at a women’s dormitory, he got into a snowball fight with a journalism student, Dorothy Martin. The couple married in 1942, and soon afterward, his wife shifted her career ambitions to become his laboratory technician and lifelong collaborator.
Dr. Thomas went to Harvard Medical School, where he became interested in leukemia and bone marrow. He received his medical degree in 1946, spent two years in the Army, then returned to Boston to complete his residency and conduct research.
In 1955, he came to Cooperstown and what was then Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital.
Besides his wife, his survivors include two sons, E. Donnall Jr. and Jeffrey, and one daughter, Elaine Thomas.