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Homegoing: Harvey Thomas, master communicator and friend to TWR

By John Lundy
England, United Kingdom, Europe, Global

Harvey Thomas, a valued member of the TWR family in Great Britain who forgave the man who nearly killed him in an infamous bombing, has died.

He was 82.

Thomas died on March 13, 2022, his family announced.

The director of Billy Graham crusades for 16 years and communications director for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and England’s Conservative Party for 14 years, Thomas served with TWR United Kingdom for 30 years, much of that as board chairman.

“Few people have influenced my life and ministry more than my good friend Harvey Thomas,” said Russell Farnworth, CEO of TWR-UK. “His wise leadership was an inspiration, and his dedication to Jesus Christ, his commitment to the gospel and his passion for world evangelization were a great encouragement to me.”

For all of his many accomplishments, Thomas might be best remembered in Great Britain for the night in which he nearly died.

It was 1984, and “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland were at their height. Patrick Magee, a member of the Irish Republican Army, had planted a bomb in Brighton’s Grand Hotel, knowing that Thatcher and Cabinet members would be staying there during an upcoming Conservative Party conference. When the bomb went off early on the morning of Oct. 12, Thatcher and her husband, Denis, were unscathed. But five people were killed and many others injured.

Thomas, who was the conference’s director, was in a room above where the bomb had been planted.

A big man with a gentle voice, Thomas told an interviewer in 2020 that the force of the explosion sent him through the roof of the building, and he fell back down through three floors before being buried in a pile of rubble. Yet when firefighters dug him out, he only had cuts and bruises.

He was told that “my considerable bulk saved me,” he explained with a smile.

Magee was arrested, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the killings.

Fourteen years later, Thomas said, he was preaching at a church in Louisville, Kentucky, on the section of Matthew 6 in which Jesus tells us if we do not forgive others, we will not be forgiven. He realized he never had forgiven Magee, so when he returned to England he wrote to Magee, extending forgiveness. Magee responded with a gracious letter, Thomas said.

After Magee was given amnesty and released, Thomas reached out to him again, and the men met in Dublin. That began an unlikely relationship that also included Thomas’ family.

“He’s a close friend now,” Thomas told the interviewer.

Branko Bjelajac, TWR vice president for Europe and Africa, said he first met Thomas at a Fellowship of European Broadcasters conference in 1994.

“By then, Harvey was influencing decision-makers worldwide from a Christian ethical perspective on various topics,” Bjelajac said.

Thomas influenced his own view of the role of a believer involved in media, Bjelajac said. He called Thomas “a true statement of gospel proclamation and an expert in media and communication … with a keen clarity of message and understanding, and a great friend of TWR international work.”

Lauren Libby, international president and CEO for TWR, called Thomas “a true Christian diplomat and the consummate Christian gentleman.”

“We are grateful for his involvement in TWR, with other Christian organizations and as a representative to the EU Parliament on behalf of Christian media,” Libby added. “The world has lost a master communicator.”

Thomas Lowell, retired president of TWR, recalled that even though Harvey Thomas was often around powerful people, he was easy for anyone to talk with. Lowell added that Thomas had a down-to-earth persona that “opened doors and hearts leading to practical results and friendship.”

At his death, Thomas was chairman of the Fellowship of European Broadcasters, a trustee of TWR UK and, with his wife Marlies, executive director of African Enterprises UK.

As a boy, Thomas attended Westminster School in London. After studying law, he went on to studies at Northwestern College in Minnesota and the Universities of Minnesota and Hawaii.

He served with the Billy Graham organization from 1960-75 and with Thatcher and the Conservative Party from 1978-91.

In 1990, he was awarded a CBE – Order of the British Empire – for his services to the prime minister.

In addition to his wife, Marlies, he is survived by daughters Leah and Lani, son-in-law David and grandchildren Ellis and Esmae.

“Daddy taught us so much about what it means to live a life full of integrity, forgiveness, faith and love,” his family said in a statement. “His kindness and determination always to do what he felt was right left a lasting impact on all those he met. We grieve and miss him so deeply, but heaven rejoices.”

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