JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. (AFNS) --
Michael Thomas stood in front of more than 200 people attending his retirement ceremony on a warm July afternoon.
Ceiling fans hummed overhead as those in attendance sat shoulder to shoulder in neat rows of chairs inside The Courses at Andrews’ clubhouse at Joint Base Andrews.
To Thomas, the golf course general manager, his retirement was not just a culmination of the golf course’s accomplishments, but a moment to remember all the friendships he made throughout the years since he first started.
“In 1976, I parked golf carts as my first job while I was going to the University of Maryland,” Thomas said. “For five years I learned the business inside and out and in 1981, I got the job as general manager, replacing a lieutenant colonel who had left on orders.”
He managed the courses for the next 38 years, and for decades, Thomas oversaw every change that occurred at the golf course. While general manager, he greeted every distinguished visitor to tee off, sometimes joining them for a round of golf.
Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, Air Force vice chief of staff, joked about the extensive number of distinguished visitors in attendance as he presided over the retirement ceremony.
“Mike, you served 43 years here, 38 of that as an Air Force civilian…only a handful have ever given so much,” Wilson said. “You’ve served or golfed with eight presidents, personally met two popes and built a second home for 16 chiefs of staff of the Air Force, 25 vice chiefs of staffs and 15 chief master sergeants of the Air Force.”
In response to the accolades, Thomas said he felt shocked and honored.
“This ceremony was more than I deserved and that so many (people) attended makes me feel absolutely honored and privileged to be here,” Thomas said. “I’ve been in the business of happiness for all these years and was fortunate enough to make more best friends than life should allow.”
Many of those friendships were formed during what Thomas referred to as the "heydays." In the 1990s, The Courses at Andrews saw a peak in interest in the sport, attracting everyone from Airmen to various U.S. presidents.
“President George Bush Sr. often visited the courses with his family and Millie, their dog,” Thomas said. “I played many, many rounds with President Clinton and sometimes people wouldn’t even know he was on base.”
Thomas remembered a funny time when Clinton played a round of golf before a scheduled air-show demonstration by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds and the demonstration team was required to wait to fly until he finished.
In 1998, 18 additional holes were constructed on base, making The Courses at Andrews the only 54-hole golf course owned by the Department of Defense.
“The 90s were an explosion back then, people booked months in advance for weddings and ceremonies and I even heard rumors that some people slept in their cars the night before to get morning tee times on the new course,” Thomas said.
Today, the courses are still home to dedicated patrons and employees, many of whom were present during the ceremony. He added he enjoyed seeing and serving the recurring faces over the years, knowing exactly what they needed.
“I’ve worked with Mr. Thomas for 31 years and he has always been very detail-oriented, he remembers everything and makes every person feel important, whether they are an Airman or the president,” said Ron Johnston, acting general manager at the courses. “There was not a smarter person on base, and it was an honor to work under and learn from him.”
Wilson described in his ending remarks that Thomas’ career was a legacy of success in everything from his service to his relationships.
“You’ve left an imprint on everyone here and not hundreds, or thousands, but tens of thousands have learned from you, been mentored by you, and been supported by you,” Wilson added.
As the ceremony concluded, Thomas shook everyone’s hand in the receiving line and thanked them for attending and making the day so memorable.
In regards to The Courses at Andrews, Thomas believes his life’s work is in good hands and he is ready for the next chapter. He will continue to provide a business of happiness to those who wish to spend their mornings on fresh-cut golfing greens, albeit at a different location.
“Golf and the Air Force have been my guiding light in life, and I will never let that fade,” said Thomas.