"We are very pleased that Mr. Thomas accepted this position and thank him for his willingness to serve our great breed. I feel we have a bright and fruitful future ahead of us," said TWHBEA president Marty Irby.
The appointment followed the Feb. 10 resignation of former executive director Stan Butt. Butt was named interim director in 2007 and was given the permanent position about six months later. He came into an organization and an industry that had been rocked by the 2006 season, when no champion was named and lawsuits, bad press and financial disasters seemed to be lurking around every corner.
"Basically, I was brought in to restore financial and fiscal responsibility to the association," said Butt in a May 2008 interview.
"As the Executive Director, I hope it will be said that under my watch, I saw the Association through some of the worse economic times that we, in our lifetime, have ever witnessed," he wrote in his resignation letter. "I can honestly say that I am leaving TWHBEA in much better shape, financially, than when I became the Executive in December of 2007."
Butt went on to say that "conditions and circumstances in our industry dictate that I go a different path."
The decision to bring Thomas on as the new executive director was a unanimous one made by the TWHBEA executive committee, according to its press release.
"A longtime advocate for the walking horse industry, Thomas was the chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration from 1984 until 2007," the release stated. "During his tenure, The Celebration saw unparalleled growth in entries and attendance. Thomas was the first to create a sponsorship program for the event and between 1984 and 2007, that program raised over $16 million in revenue."
Thomas was fired from the Celebration in 2007, one of many industry casualties in the fallout from the 2006 Celebration fiasco. Only days later, Jerrold Pedigo lost his bid for the TWHBEA presidency and Butt was named its executive director.
During his tenure at the Celebration CEO, Thomas not only brought about increased attendance and sponsorship, but oversaw the addition of Calsonic Arena, Champions Arena, Celebration Plaza, and a re-build of nearly half the barns at the venue. Thomas was inducted into the TWHNC Hall of Fame in 2004.
Plans call for Thomas to officially begin his duties as TWHBEA executive director on March 1.
"It's an honor to be asked to serve," he said. "I look forward to working with the Executive Committee to accomplish their goals and objectives. I'm anxious to work with other industry leaders to continue to promote this great breed."