New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Awards 2012
Recognizing Those Committed to Making a Difference
Elizabeth Thomas
Retired nurse Elizabeth Thomas was chosen to receive the N.M. Distinguished Public Service Award for her work on behalf of disabled children, and for her continued volunteer service efforts. Ms. Thomas arrived in New Mexico after completing nursing school in the late 1940s. She worked as a Registered Nurse while rearing five children, two of them with developmental disabilities.

While living in Roswell, Ms. Thomas grew frustrated with the quality of life available to her disabled children, and she set out to do something about it by campaigning for equal opportunities and choices for all individuals with disabilities. Ms. Thomas was instrumental in the establishment of the Arc of New Mexico, an association that promotes self-determination, healthy families, and effective community support systems and partnerships for those with disabilities in the state.

She and her husband, together with other parents, worked to promote a law for special education. These and similar efforts nationwide resulted in legislation that gave every child the right to an education, regardless of ability. Ms. Thomas was even invited to Washington, D.C. to witness the signing of this significant special education law.

As a dedicated volunteer, Ms. Thomas has helped St. Felix Pantry in Rio Rancho provide food for 200 needy people daily. She sorts and cleans fruit and vegetables, and distributes the produce and bread items to those who come to the Pantry, many from the Albuquerque metro area. Ms. Thomas is known to treat those who come through the Pantry door with compassion and respect.

Ms. Thomas is a vital member of the Rio Rancho Host Lions Club. For over 35 years, she has served the club in leadership positions, fund raising and in providing eye tests for people of all ages. The Lions, a nonprofit organization whose primary purpose is to help the visually impaired, has a program called Kids Sight, which tests children ages one to six for eye problems. Ms. Thomas has been a frontrunner in ensuring that over one thousand children in Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, Cuba and Algodones had eye exams; and efforts are underway to begin testing in day care centers and public and private schools for the current school year.

In her “spare time,” Ms. Thomas volunteers at the Sandoval Regional Medical Center information desk, handing out directions or other facts with a ready smile and a kind word. Even with two knee replacements and a shoulder replaced, she still finds time and energy to travel the world. Her adventures include bungee jumping in New Zealand, riding a camel in Egypt and zip-lining in Las Vegas.