Dave Thomas, 33°, Grand Cross

A heart attack makes the founder of Wendy’s International realize that his family is the most important thing in his life.

In December 1996 I suffered a heart attack. As you can imagine, it was a life-changing experience. I had not been feeling sick, maybe a little tired, but certainly there was not anything to warn me what was on the horizon.

I’ve lost friends, people I cared a lot about, to heart disease. In fact, one of my best friends, Jim Near, suffered a fatal heart attack while he was in Atlanta for the Summer Olympics. I never thought something like that would happen to Jim, and it got me thinking hard about my own health.

My job requires that I have a physical twice a year, which I dutifully schedule and complete. And I followed most of the doctor’s orders, especially over the last few years. I added exercise to my schedule—I enjoy a good walk—and I started watching what I eat. "Moderation" was my buzz word. Pasta and salads were "in." Sugar was a thing of the past.

I thought I was doing all I was supposed to be doing to stay healthy. But my heart had other ideas.

Before I got sick, I had spent a couple of days traveling, ending up in New York City to announce the winners of Wendy’s High School Heisman Program. (This program is terrific. It honors the country’s best high school athletes. One male and one female winner are chosen, young people who have excelled in athletics, scholarship, and community service.) I returned home from New York on Saturday afternoon a little tired, but I didn’t think anything was out of the ordinary.

My wife, Lorraine, was with me that Saturday night when I awoke with chest pains, and she immediately called 9-1-1. The squad rushed over and took me to the hospital where they did a battery of tests to determine what had happened and how to fix it. My only option was quadruple bypass surgery. I was scheduled for heart surgery the following Friday morning.

I spent the next five days thinking. My family gathered around me, giving me encouragement, telling me everything was going to be OK. Their support and love went a long way to calm me down. But I still had lots of time to think. I thought about the day I opened the first Wendy’s restaurant, when Wendy’s stock was first traded on the New York Stock Exchange, getting my GED, of being coroneted a 33° Mason, and then being honored as a Grand Cross.

But the memories that brought the most comfort to me were those that involved my loved ones: when Lorraine and I got married, holding each of my children after they were born, playing with my grandchildren, and all the family meetings we had where we teased each other and enjoyed spending time together.
Grand Commander C. Fred Kleinknecht (r.) was pleased to present the Grand Cross, Scottish Rite Freemasonry’s highest award in the Southern Jurisdiction, to Ill. Bros. Dave Thomas and comedian Norm Crosby during the October 1997 Biennial Session of The Supreme Council.

When I think about the most important lesson I learned, the answer is easy. My family is the most important thing in my life and my greatest accomplishment.

I am truly blessed to be happily married to Lorraine for 44 years, to have five healthy children, and 14 wonderful grandchildren. The Thomas Clan is pretty impressive!

On any given day, my family is going in a hundred different directions at a hundred miles an hour. When we get together for family meetings or for holidays, we argue and disagree on everything. But when the going gets tough, we pull together. There’s no question that we are a family. The old saying "Together we’re stronger" is exactly right in the Thomas family.

Don’t wait until a tragedy strikes to show your family how much you love them. Enjoy all the moments you have. Even if they’re not "Kodak moments," they’re still important memories to cherish and share. We only get one family, and we should celebrate it each and every day.

A Final Note From Dave:

As an important footnote to this personal article, I would like to note that I was asked by the National Emergency Number Association, the people who bring us the 9-1-1 service, to film a public service announcement instructing people about when to call 9-1-1. Naturally, I was more than happy to honor their request.

Too many people call 9-1-1 when their cat is stuck in a tree or they need directions to a special event. These kinds of calls take up precious time and keep true emergency calls from getting through. Of the millions of calls that come in to 9-1-1 systems, about 50 percent are for non-emergencies.

It’s so important to know when to call: to report a fire, stop a crime, or to save a life. I was lucky—our call went through quickly, and I got the help I needed. Because of 9-1-1 and God, I’m still here. Every day is special to me, and I know I still have important work to do.

Dave Thomas
was raised a Master Mason in Sol. D. Bayless Lodge No. 359 of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and became a 32° Mason, N.M.J., on November 16, 1961, in the Scottish Rite Bodies of Fort Wayne. He affiliated with the Miami, Florida, Scottish Rite Bodies on December 18, 1991; was invested with the Rank and Decoration of Knight Commander Court of Honour on November 13, 1993, in Jacksonville, Florida; and was coroneted an Inspector General Honorary, S.J., on November 25, 1995, in Atlanta, Georgia, and unanimously elected to the Scottish Rite’s highest honor, the Grand Cross, by The Supreme Council, 33°, in Executive Session on October 3, 1997, in Washington, D.C.