Peggy Evans Thomas, age 98, passed away peacefully on May 5, 2021. She was born March 22, 1923, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to the late Theodore I. Evans, Sr., and Faith Elliott Evans. Although she spent nearly her entire life in Chattanooga, her family lived in Georgia for part of her youth, and she earned a diploma from Montezuma High School in Montezuma, Georgia, in 1940, when students were graduated after 11th grade. She then returned to Chattanooga for an additional year of secondary school and attended Chattanooga High School, graduating with the class of 1941. It was there that she met the love of her life and husband of 40 years, Richard C. (Dick) Thomas, who preceded her in death in 1989. Peggy enrolled in The University of Chattanooga (UC, now UT Chattanooga) in 1941, but her undergraduate studies were interrupted by World War II, and Peggy worked for nearly three years as an electrical engineering diagramming trainee for Tennessee Valley Authority. In 1944 she returned to college and in 1946 earned a B.A. in English from UC, where she was a member of Pi Beta Phi sorority, the Women’s Athletic Association, Cotillion, and Mortar Board National Honor Society. She was also elected Miss UTC and Miss Outdoor Girl. From 1946 to 1953, Peggy taught physical education at UC while pursuing a graduate degree. In 1953, she earned an M.A. in Physical Education and Dance from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She joined the faculty of Girls Preparatory School in 1953 and retired in 1988 with a reputation for being a creative force, a motivator and inspiration to her “girls,” and a stern but fair disciplinarian. In addition to serving as a physical education instructor and coaching varsity basketball, volleyball, tennis, golf and swimming, she set up the physical education curriculum and intramural sports program for grades 7-12, planned and directed the annual May Day pageant, designed the Creative Dance program, and established the performing modern dance company, Terpsichord, which is her most enduring legacy. In 2000, the school dedicated the Peggy Evans Thomas Dance Studio in her honor. For several years in the 1950’s, Peggy also served as Director of the Tennessee Camp for Diabetic Children (TCDC). Such was her love of teaching, that following her retirement, Peggy continued as a substitute teacher at GPS for more than 20 years. In addition, she was the director of the Chattanooga Cotton Ball from 1988 to 2003, planning and directing the pageant portion of the Ball. For many years, she also enjoyed a late career as assistant to the director and recreational instructor for Dalton State College’s Elderhostel Program. There, she created movement and exercise programs, led nature walks, and shared her knowledge of astronomy, bringing her love of teaching to an older generation of students. Peggy received numerous awards and accolades over the years, including the GPS Distinguished Teacher Award; the National Physical Education Teachers Association’s Outstanding Teacher Award; the Honor Award from the Tennessee Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; Coach of the Year award for girls’ golf by the Tennessee Athletic Coaches Association; the Chattanooga Quarterback Club’s Scrappy Moore Award for Golf Coach of the Year; the Pathfinder Award from The National Alliance for Girls’ and Women’s Sports; and the Betty Probasco Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame. She was an original inductee to the GPS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003, was inducted in the school’s first class of Faculty Emeriti, and was named as one of Girls Inc.’s Unbought and Unbossed Women of Chattanooga in 2012. Peggy called herself “an avid, average golfer,” and she often competed in (and occasionally won) tournaments. Following retirement, she began taking art lessons and became an enthusiastic and accomplished watercolorist, which remained one of her passions well into her 90s. She loved to read fiction, inspirational essays, and poetry, and she could quote from memory hundreds of lines of poetry. Among her favorite poems, allowing insights into her personality, were William Henley’s “Invictus,” Kipling’s “When Earth Last Picture is Painted,” “Requiem” by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” She would be delighted to think you had honored her memory by reading one of those. In addition to her aforementioned talents, she prided herself on being able to play multiple sports, to which she attributed her popularity in high school and college. She could also burn toast like a champion. Peggy’s love of teaching, however, was the joy of her life, along with her family and her grandchildren, who called her, appropriately, “Peppy.” She was the best grandmother a child could have, traveling miles to attend school and sporting events, hosting “Camp Peppy” in the summer, and always giving love and encouragement. In her waning days, one of her greatest experiences was spending some time with each of her granddaughters, Faith and Maggie, and getting to meet her first great grandchild, McCoy. Peggy is survived by her daughter, Mary Jane (Trey) Ruch; granddaughters Faith Evans Ruch and Maggie Ruch (Russell) Frelinghuysen; great grandson McCoy Elliott Frelinghuysen; nieces and nephews Beth Blanton (Ted) Harper, Barbara Blanton LeBlanc, Teddy (Linda) Evans, Sarah Evans, Allison Evans (Tim) Gilbert, Cristi Evans, Emily Ann Walker (Rick) Norris, Jack (Jan) Walker, Lynn Reynolds; Chattanooga cousins Mary Harper (Jim) Bach, Peggy Harper (John) Myers, Jerry (Jeannie) Harper, Jr., Lee (Jane) Harper, and Tommy Harper. She is also survived by younger generations of much loved nieces, nephews and cousins, as well as many dear friends and hundreds of beloved former students. In addition to her parents and husband, she was preceded in death by her sister Mary Guy Evans Blanton; brothers Theo Evans, Jr., and Charles (Chick) Evans, Sr.; sisters-in-law Emily Thomas Walker, Jean Evans, and Jo Evans; niece Laura Evans; nephew Chick Evans, Jr.; and her cousin who was like a sister to her, Jane Tolley Harper and Jane’s husband, Jerry W. Harper, Sr. A private family service will be held May 23, 2021 at Noon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church with interment to follow at Chattanooga National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to Girls Preparatory School (205 Island Ave., Chattanooga, TN 37405) or St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (305 West 7th St., Chattanooga, TN 37402). Arrangements entrusted to Lane Funeral Home, 601 Ashland Terrace, Chattanooga TN 37415 www.lanefh.com 423-877-3524.
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