Mike Thomas: A natural talent who kept his word

Mike Thomas

Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Thomas soars above Jurassic Park at Universal's Islands of Adventure, with notebook in hand, in 1999. (ORLANDO SENTINEL FILE / March 25, 1999)

The first time Mike Thomas appeared on my radar screen might have been Oct. 8, 1985. I was covering environmental issues for Florida Today in Brevard County. Thomas was covering the environment for the Orlando Sentinel.

I opened the Sentinel that morning and saw this headline: "Flood canal staggers clam industry." Turns out that St. Johns water managers dumped about 8 billion gallons of freshwater into the Indian River's brackish water. It could have wiped out the clam industry.

Thomas had beaten me on a huge story. On my turf.

In the years that followed, I learned this about Thomas: The guy was a natural. He was one of the few writers I would read just because of the byline. Because I knew he wouldn't bore me with pretension or predictability or fluff.

Many times, as his latest and last Sentinel supervisor, I would experience near total recall when Thomas mentioned a story he wrote years ago.

Like the 1991 Florida Magazine description of televangelist Benny Hinn administering miracles:

"Benny prowls and stalks across the stage — his brown eyes glaring, his face tense. He seems on the verge of losing control. The power of the Spirit is consuming him. His hand is crackling and numb from dispensing it.

"He slays the masses as fast as they can fall. Winded catchers try to keep up with the toppling bodies. He rears back and with a pitching motion slays the entire choir with one toss. They go reeling back in their chairs.

"'That's power,' yells Benny. 'POWER!'"

So many verbs!

And so little time: Thomas is leaving the Orlando Sentinel. His final column is in print and online today. I could go on about what a loss it is for the Sentinel and the reading public. Blah, blah.

But in the spirit of fun that so often lurked in Thomas' stories and columns, let's look back on some of his greatest hits. Test your Mike Thomas IQ:

1. What was the name of the cat that became Thomas' best-loved column subject?

A. Charlie

B. Chester

C. Clinton

2. About how many columns and stories did Thomas write from 1985-2011?

A. 1,000

B. 3,000

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