Tuesday, September 17, 2019

News

Leadership, Generosity and Passion—Patricia “Pat” Thomas Receives the 2018 USPA Lifetime Achievement Award

By Jessie Thompson

Features | April 2019
Monday, April 1, 2019

If you ask Patricia Annette Thomas (whom most simply call “Pat”) about her greatest life achievement, she will unhesitatingly say it is her family, then quickly change the subject. However, if you persist, she might share some stories from the myriad wonderful moments in her life. She could tell you of the time she proudly served tea to Queen Elizabeth, or you could hear about the U.S. Army appointing her an Honorary Golden Knight. She could tell you about one of the unusual aircraft she’s jumped from, or she could paint a picture of the time she and fellow Complete Parachute Solutions owners had the opportunity to fire a minigun from an airborne helicopter. Thomas might even boast delightfully by saying, “To everyone’s surprise, I fired more rounds from that minigun than any of the men onboard the helicopter with me!” (You should know that there is nothing “mini” about a minigun; it is a gigantic machine gun that skilled operators can fire at 2,000 rounds per second.) But when she received the news of being the 2018 recipient of the USPA Lifetime Achievement Award, she humbly resisted the honor, stating simply, “There are so many other people more deserving than me.”

Thomas, with her five-foot stature, is a force to be reckoned with. As the president and owner of Sun Path Products for nearly 30 years, she is very close to seeing her company produce its 50,000th Javelin harness-and-container system. Unabashedly direct, she is a fiercely loyal and honorable business woman whose impact traverses the globe. Born and raised in the United Kingdom, Thomas immigrated to the United States in 1992. When she celebrated her 60th birthday in 2017, she made her first attempt at retirement. Old habits die hard, though, and she came out of retirement soon after in 2018.

As an entrepreneur, her relationships with family, friends and employees come before any of her five impressively successful business endeavors (which include Complete Parachute Solutions and Tactical Training Facility, which are Sun Path’s sister companies that cater to the military). She wears many hats and has become one of the most influential women in the skydiving industry, admired by all her for her tenacity, generosity, commitment and dedication. Her daughter-in-law and Sun Path CFO Jessica Blay said, “[Pat’s] heart is bigger than anyone’s I know. Family is most important to her, but the skydiving industry is part of her family.”

Thomas will tell you that the driving force behind Sun Path’s success is the people. Bruno Brokken, a veteran Sun Path Products sponsored athlete and longtime friend, remarked, “She has a great heart and it’s always great to bump into her somewhere on the planet. Her company … has always been really amazing, not only to their sponsored skydivers but to the entire skydiving community. And that is why she deserves that award 100 percent!”

The success of Thomas’ businesses has afforded her a platform to give back to the skydiving community that she loves so much. With a competitive nature herself, it only makes sense that Thomas and Sun Path have sponsored the world’s leading athletes from all skydiving disciplines, including formation skydiving, vertical formation skydiving, accuracy landing, wingsuit flying and canopy piloting. In her nomination for the Lifetime Achievement Award, USPA Executive Director Ed Scott stated, “[Pat] has attended nearly every USPA Nationals since 1992 and every World Championships, World Cup and Mondial since 1989.” In addition, she’s been involved with the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale’s International Parachuting Committee and other associations, consistently participating in and helping to plan conferences and meetings.

Thomas also strongly believes in preserving the history of skydiving, and she has worked passionately as a member of the International Skydiving Museum and Hall of Fame Board of Trustees and the chair of its Nominations Committee. Her baby has been fundraising and logistics, and she recently helped orchestrate Operation Packrat, in which museum volunteers undertook cataloging and properly storing hundreds of skydiving artifacts. Thomas will store these in her Raeford, North Carolina, warehouse until the museum builds its permanent home in Florida.

Elected chair of the Parachute Industry Association Symposium Committee in 2003, Thomas stands at the helm of the team that has successfully coordinated its 10th PIA Symposium, a world-renowned industry event. Scott gave perspective to the magnitude of the event in her nomination citation, saying, “[The Symposium] brings together nearly 1,000 skydivers, manufacturers, instructional rating holders, riggers and industry leaders.”

After receiving notice that USPA was bestowing the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award on her, Thomas selected the highly anticipated Sun Path party on the opening day of the 2019 PIA Symposium in Dallas, Texas, as the venue for her award ceremony. She told her staff during a planning meeting that she would “accept the award after my first drink [of Bacardi and diet cola] but before my third,” and that is exactly what she did. On February 4 in Reunion Hall A of the Hyatt in downtown Dallas, more than 300 of Thomas’ family, friends, athletes, colleagues and dealers attended the event. Longtime sponsored athletes Greg Windmiller and Craig Girard warmed up the audience by sharing anecdotes about her. Then USPA Vice President Sherry Butcher and Director of Government Relations Randy Ottinger took the podium to present Thomas with her award.

Butcher spoke about the award before inviting Thomas to take the stage, saying, “Originally conceived in 1970, it has been awarded 30 times to date to some of our most dedicated members. The recipient is chosen annually by the USPA Board of Directors, and it is awarded to an expert sport parachute jumper, active or retired, in recognition of outstanding sportsmanship, skill or personal contribution to both the sport of skydiving and USPA. On behalf of [previous award recipients], USPA and all of the skydivers that you have helped in your career, we want to thank you, Pat, for your leadership, generosity and passion. Your hard work and dedication to our sport is truly inspiring and the inscription on your award reflects that.”

Butcher then beckoned Thomas to come stand before her peers and accept her award. The crowd applauded as she stepped on stage barefooted, sporting a Sun Path company uniform and an uncharacteristically shy demeanor. Holding the impressive glass award, Ottinger read aloud the inscription: “For nearly three decades of advancing the sport of skydiving by sponsoring competitors and teams and being a leader in the harness-and-container industry and masterfully organizing the Parachute Industry Association Symposium.”

Thomas beamed at the hard-won honor, shaking hands and sharing affection with her presenters and then promptly handing the award back. Without speaking into the microphone, she said “thank you” to the crowd and quickly ran off the stage, her face a cheery shade of red. The room erupted with congratulatory applause.

Rusty Lewis, a fellow Brit, sponsored athlete and friend summed up Thomas’ nature and ongoing contribution to the sport by saying, “Pat is a pioneer within the industry, forward thinking and hard working with a spicy personality. Her leadership has powered the Sun Path team to innovate products that have made us safer and raised the standards for the sport we see and feel today. Pat’s attitude to making things happen and her no-holds-barred, unrestricted zest for creating the best of the best and pushing for excellence is inspirational and truly shows in today’s world of skydiving.”

Even with a lifetime of achievements under her belt, Pat Thomas is not one to slow down, and those who know her expect to see her involvement and support of skydiving continue for many years to come.

Butcher then beckoned Thomas to come stand before her peers and accept her award. The crowd applauded as she stepped on stage barefooted, sporting a Sun Path company uniform and an uncharacteristically shy demeanor. Holding the impressive glass award, Ottinger read aloud the inscription: “For nearly three decades of advancing the sport of skydiving by sponsoring competitors and teams and being a leader in the harness-and-container industry and masterfully organizing the Parachute Industry Association Symposium.”

Thomas beamed at the hard-won honor, shaking hands and sharing affection with her presenters and then promptly handing the award back. Without speaking into the microphone, she said “thank you” to the crowd and quickly ran off the stage, her face a cheery shade of red. The room erupted with congratulatory applause.

Rusty Lewis, a fellow Brit, sponsored athlete and friend summed up Thomas’ nature and ongoing contribution to the sport by saying, “Pat is a pioneer within the industry, forward thinking and hard working with a spicy personality. Her leadership has powered the Sun Path team to innovate products that have made us safer and raised the standards for the sport we see and feel today. Pat’s attitude to making things happen and her no-holds-barred, unrestricted zest for creating the best of the best and pushing for excellence is inspirational and truly shows in today’s world of skydiving.”

Even with a lifetime of achievements under her belt, Pat Thomas is not one to slow down, and those who know her expect to see her involvement and support of skydiving continue for many years to come.

Print
Categories: Homepage, Features   |   Rate this article:
No rating
  |  Number of views: 1570   |  Comments: 0

Please login or register to post comments.

x