SOMERS POINT — Charlie’s Bar & Restaurant was busy Saturday afternoon. Waitresses took orders, platters of wings were dropped off at tables and clusters of patrons lined the bar.
All the while, one name continued to circle the room: Jack.
Jack Thomas, a third-generation owner of the Somers Point bar, has died, family members said Saturday.
Thomas, 65, of Linwood and formerly of Somers Point, died in his sleep at home, said daughter-in-law Jennie Thomas.
“It was a shock,” she said, noting her father-in-law was otherwise in good health.
The Thomas family gathered at Charlie’s on Saturday morning to relay the news to patrons and staff, many of whom had worked with Jack for decades.
“We were at the bar this morning. We had longtime bartenders who had been there for 30 years or more, so we wanted to make sure they heard it from the family,” said Jennie Thomas, of Linwood.
Ray Smith was one of those bartenders. He recalls knowing Thomas’ kids when they were knee-high. He said he walked in Saturday morning and one of Thomas’ sons told Smith the bar would stay open.
“They said, ‘Stay open because that’s what my dad would want,’” Smith said.
Somers Point Mayor Jack Glasser said he is heartbroken at the loss, adding Thomas and his family were fabulous for the city.
“Jack was always a giving person and one of the all-around good guys in town,” Glasser said, adding Charlie’s is “one of the most respected and loved restaurants in all of South Jersey. I’m devastated.”
Former Linwood Mayor Don Vass and a couple of buddies were having drinks at the bar, sharing memories of Thomas.
“I’ve been friends with him since 1980. Wonderful guy,” Vass said.
Vass recalled a time in 1995 when Thomas donated money to Mainland Regional High School to buy new lights for the football field. A fundraiser at the high school wasn’t collecting enough money, so Thomas stepped in and paid for the whole thing.
“They came to him finally, and he said, ‘How much do you need?’” Jennie Thomas said. “He had lit the field.”
Robert Coffey was the Mainland coach at the time Thomas donated the lights. He said following the donation, he got to know Thomas very well.
“One of the kindest men I’ve met in my entire life,” said Coffey, of Linwood. “He provided our whole community with a sense of pride with those lights, and it became an event with Mainland football games. He helped our community so much with that.”
Barry Toher stood outside the bar Saturday morning, sporting a Charlie’s hat.
He remembers Thomas always coming into the bar about 7 a.m. to grab his coffee and make sure everyone was doing well.
“He said hi to everybody,” said Toher, of Somers Point. “Today stinks. It’s a morbid day.”
Thomas is survived by his wife, Colleen, and three sons, John III “JR” (Jennie), Jeff (Jill), and Jimmy (Kelli), as well as nine grandchildren and two dogs.
A Mainland alumnus, Thomas went right into running Charlie’s, then owned by his grandfather, out of high school. After many years, and once his sons were old enough, he handed over the reins.
“He was still active in the bar, but his two sons were primarily running the bar,” Jennie Thomas said. “He was kind of enjoying slowing down a little.”
She said Jack and Colleen Thomas spent time in both Linwood and Florida. Thomas was an active grandfather, she said, always making time to travel to see his grandchildren perform or play sports.
The loss at the bar hit hard, she said, especially because he was not the only member of the Charlie’s family to die this year.
“We just lost Wes Moore, who was the first bartender who Jack hired,” Jennie Thomas said.
She described her father-in-law as a philanthropist who cared deeply for his community.
“I think anyone in the community, the first thing they would say is he was always very generous — sponsoring, helping with events,” she said. “He was ... one of the first people that all the organizations would go to. They knew he would help.”