Ralph & Mary Ann Thomas – Island Icons

Written By Jan Cobertt, Coronado Historical Association Volunteer & CHA Staff

Ralph at his daughter’s wedding

This article was originally published in the April 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

The monthly column, Island Icons, of historical vignettes from the Coronado Historical Association features insights and personal memories of locals. An initiative of CHA and its community volunteers, it is the product of a special archival oral history project that records the local personal histories that may be lost in the near future. This month’s Island Icon’s are Ralph Thomas, whose birthday was just last month and his wife Mary Ann Thomas.

Imagine having to take a boat from Marin County to Letterman Hospital at the Presidio because the Golden Gate Bridge was under construction. This month’s Island Icon, Ralph Thomas was born in San Francisco in 1936, after his mother’s ferry trip to get to the hospital.  

Years later, Ralph would ride the Coronado-San Diego ferry to court our other Island Icon, Mary Ann Thomas, when he first came to live in San Diego from 1959-1960 while on active duty in the U.S. Navy. Their courtship ended in marriage, now going 59 years strong.

Mary Ann was born in Washington D.C. and her father, Capt. Frank Robert McCrary, moved the family to Coronado when she was two months old. Captain McCrary, was the first naval lighter-than-air (LTA) pilot, and USS Shenandoah’s first commanding officer. Because of her father’s job, Mary Ann grew up in Coronado and recalls having a safe upbringing with the Coronado community being supportive and tight knit. It created a sense of belonging and independence to Coronado’s youth. 

For their courtship, Mary Ann and Ralph have great memories. 

“On one occasion, after a long day of swimming and diving for lobsters and abalone in Mexico, with Nick Reynolds and friends, Ralph was walking back to the ferry in the dark,” said Mary Ann. 

Ralph rolled his eyes when he realized where this story was going. 

In the late 1950s Coronado experienced a string of burglaries where dozens of pairs of shoes were stolen and deposited around town. Mary Ann continued, “[Ralph] was carrying our metal cooler, when all of a sudden the police arrested him, and mistook him for the shoe bandit! Thankfully, my brother was home and could vouch that indeed that was our cooler, and he was not in fact the shoe bandit.” 

Mary Ann could barely contain her laughter when she shared this story, and many others while relaying the fun they had as young people dating during this time. 

Ralph recalls eating Jack’s Cesar salad at La Avenida Cafe (currently where Bistro d’Asia is located). He loved going to the Center Beach to walk, body surf and sit in the sun.

Ralph said that the best advice he received was from his Executive Officer in the Navy suggesting that he go to law school.  When he indeed did go to law school the support and encouragement from his wife and mother-in-law were invaluable. The couple married, and they left so Ralph could attend law school, back in Marin.

After becoming a lawyer, one of the scariest moments Ralph faced was the shootout at the Marin County Courthouse in 1969. His office was in the courthouse and although he had originally been assigned to prosecute the case, it was reassigned to another district attorney, so he was not in the courtroom at the time of the shooting. He did, however, see the events from the balcony of his office. Ralph has never forgotten this moment.

Ralph and Mary have three children, two sons and one daughter. The sons live in Milbrae, CA and Fairbanks, Alaska and their daughter lives in Torrance, CA.

In 2015 Ralph and Mary Ann returned to live in Coronado in 2015. Ralph says one of the biggest changes he’s seen in Coronado is the expansion and renovation of the Coronado public library. The library is one of Ralph’s favorites places – it has been enlarged and remodeled and two beautiful murals, “El Dia del Mercado” and “Canasta de Flores” by Alfredo Ramos Martinez, have been restored and are on display. 

Mary Ann also has fond memories of the past. She remembers driving with her friends, who are still in touch to this day, ending up at Oscar’s Drive-In. She has found that while Coronado is noisier now, has many more cars, and jet sounds are always to be heard, no matter what, “It is still Coronado.” For Mary Ann, Coronado will always have a homecoming feeling for those who have called it home, no matter how many times they have come and gone. 

Looking back, Ralph said if he could do anything over again, he would advise himself to “be less self-absorbed, listen to your parents and treat your siblings well.”

It was a pleasure to interview Ralph & Mary Ann. They are witty, humorous, and detailed storytellers.

Island Icons is an archival project of the Coronado Historical Association. If you would like to nominate someone as an Island Icon, email us at info@coronadohistory.org or call 619-435-7242.

This article was originally published in the April 2021 Issue of Coronado Magazine. To read this article and more from Coronado Magazine, click here or the button below.

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