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Dave Thomas: Did well in hamburger business, did a lot of good in life



Published: Sat, January 12, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



A lot of people have sold a lot of hamburgers in the last quarter century. But only a couple have sold more than Dave Thomas. And none is ever likely to be remembered as well.

Dave Thomas had one of the most recognizable faces in America. Between 1989 and just a few days ago, he appeared in more than 800 different television commercials for Wendy's restaurants.

Those commercials were pulled after Thomas died Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and company officials say that when Wendy's begins advertising again, Dave won't be there.

But while being a smart businessman, a hard worker and a great pitchman would be an adequate legacy for most people, it was neither as a restaurateur or TV personality that Dave Thomas will have made his greatest mark. It will be as a philanthropist, and especially as an advocate for and supporter of adoption.

Dave Thomas made his first million dollars in Columbus selling fried chicken and he launched his restaurant chain from there. In a little over 30 years, Wendy's grew to a chain of 6,000 restaurants, the third largest in the world.

Long memory: But Thomas, whose Wendy's holdings alone were worth more than $100 million, never forgot what is was like to be poor or what it was like to be adopted. He devoted his later years and considerable amounts of his personal fortune -- an estimated $20 million -- to charity, especially those that encouraged adoption.

Dave Thomas told friends that if his charitable foundation helped get just one boy or girl adopted, it would be worth it. He helped far more than that, and every time he helped, lives were changed.

Dave Thomas was buried yesterday in Columbus. The kid who dropped out of high school 52 years ago to work in a restaurant, was mourned by 700 people who filled Upper Arlington Lutheran Church. But while he was mourned yesterday, his life's work will be celebrated by families for years to come.




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