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Richard Branfield Thomas

March 28, 1922 October 18, 2016
Richard Branfield Thomas
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Obituary for Richard Branfield Thomas

Richard Branfield Thomas died peacefully in the presence of family members on October 18, 2016, at his home in El Cerrito, California. He was 94 years old.

He was born on March 28, 1922 in Gettysburg, the son of Edmund Wells Thomas and Esther Branfield Thomas.

Richard attended Gettysburg High School and graduated in 1939 from The Hill School in Pottstown, PA. He matriculated at Princeton University, where he majored in Music and minored in Languages (Arabic, French, German, Russian and Spanish). He played piano in Princeton’s Triangle Club, was an announcer at the student radio station, and was a member of the Terrace Club. After graduation in 1943, Richard joined the Army Air Corps and was assigned to military intelligence. He graduated from the Japanese Language School at the University of Michigan and was assigned to the Japanese occupation force in charge of the special translation group and later in charge of the unit responsible for the censorship of Japanese newspapers and wire services. Honorably discharged, in 1949 he earned a master’s degree from Harvard University in Far East Languages, Literature, and History.

Richard was then hired by the CIA in Washington, D.C. as an intelligence officer. In 1956, he transferred to the National Bureau of Standards, where he published technical papers and became a pioneer in image-processing using the SEAC computer. Richard worked as a senior member of the engineering staff at RCA and was a senior research programmer at the University of Maryland, College Park. In 1970, he became the manager of research services at The Brookings Institution.

Richard had a second career as a professional pianist, accompanist, and jazz improviser. During his years in Washington, he spent many evenings accompanying jazz vocalist Joyce Carr and other singers at local restaurants and lounges. He retired in 1988 and moved to El Cerrito, California. Throughout his 28-year retirement, Richard enjoyed many friendships, building personal computers, editing the online publication “The San Francisco Classical Voice,” photography, music, and the fine arts.

Richard was unmarried and is survived by his nieces: Marilyn T. Blackwell of Babson Park, Florida, Beverly T. Sontheimer and her husband Peter A. Sontheimer of Gettysburg, Christine T. Armstrong and her husband Andrew R. Armstrong of Gettysburg, a nephew: Edmund W. Thomas III and his wife Barbara J. Thomas of Woodlyn, PA, his great-nephews: J. Chad Blackwell, Robert T. Lanane II, Ted T. Lanane, Mark E. Armstrong, Thomas R. Armstrong, Michael E. Thomas and their families. Richard was predeceased by his brother, Edmund W. Thomas, Jr. and sister-in-law, Mary Ruth (King) Thomas.

A memorial service will be held at 1:00 PM on Saturday, August 12, 2017 at the Gettysburg Presbyterian Church, 208 Baltimore Street. Contributions in memory of Richard B. Thomas may be made to the Land Conservancy of Adams County, P. O. Box 4584, 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Gettysburg, PA 17325 or the Adams County Arts Council, 125 South Washington Street, Gettysburg, PA 17325. Online obituary and condolences available at

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1:00 PM 8/12/2017 1:00:00 PM
Gettysburg Presbyterian Church

208 Baltimore Street
Gettysburg, PA 17325

Gettysburg Presbyterian Church
208 Baltimore Street Gettysburg 17325 PA
United States

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