On a gentle January day earlier this year, Bill and Woo Thomason stood in the sanctuary of Christ Church to celebrate their marriage, the same place they had promised to love each other forever 50 years before.
They looked at each other that day just as they had all those years before, said Randy Armstrong, who was a bridesmaid at the wedding. It is a memory Armstrong will hold onto especially tightly now that her friends have died.
The Thomasons were found unconscious in the bedroom of their Greenville home on June 9. They were taken to an area medical center where Mr. Thomason, 76, died Saturday night and Mrs. Thomason, 71, died Monday night, Deputy Coroner Jeff Fowler said.
Autopsies showed they died of anoxic brain injury caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, Fowler said. Anoxic brain injury occurs when the brain is deprived of oxygen. Carbon monoxide attaches to the hemoglobin in the blood, pushing out the oxygen.
Lt. Jason Rampey of the Greenville Police Department said officers were called around noon on June 9, a Sunday, after friends became worried that the Thomasons were not at church and had not met them for lunch.
A neighbor gave a key to officers, who called EMS. Paramedics said the couple showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning and cleared the house until the Fire Department deemed it safe to enter.
Rampey said the investigation showed the battery was dead and the fuel tank empty in a Toyota Avalon, one of two cars in the couple’s basement garage.
Investigators believe one of the Thomasons went to the store about 1:30 p.m. the Thursday before they were found, drove into the garage and accidentally did not turn the car off. The fumes entered the house through the heating and air system, Rampey said.
David McCuen, Mrs. Thomason’s brother, said there are several lessons to learn from his family’s devastating loss.
The car could be started with a fob, a keyless remote, which he believes his sister left inside the car.
“It made it easy to forget,” he said.
Also, McCuen said the importance of having a carbon monoxide detector installed in the home cannot be underestimated. And, he said he was grateful that his sister and her husband had living wills.
Friends and family members described the Thomasons as people of integrity who were passionate about helping the community. She was a Southern lady, he a Southern gentleman, the kind of man who stands when a woman leaves the table or enters a room.
Woo Thomason’s Greenville roots date back to the 1800s. Her great-great grandfather was F.W. Poe, who opened the FW Poe Manufacturing Co. in 1897 on the outskirts of downtown Greenville.
Armstrong and Thomason are distant relatives. Their parents were friends and they’ve known each other all their lives. They started kindergarten together at Haynsworth School.
Armstrong said there are many stories about how her friend earned the nickname Woo, but she thinks it has to do with her preferring to be called Wendy instead of her given name, Eugenia. Mrs. Thomason was the oldest of four children and came to be known as WooWoo, then Woo.
Bill Thomason was from Laurens and moved to Greenville for work. The two met and were married on Jan. 12, 1963. It was a big wedding, at noon, and the reception was held outside at the Parkins Mill home of Mrs. Thomason’s parents.
Thomason’s work took them far beyond Greenville.
“They loved to travel,” said McCuen.
“They’ve been all over the world,” Armstrong said.
Red pushpins in a map inside their home show the places — dozens and dozens through the decades. They lived in London for a time. And outside New York City when Thomason was an executive in the corporate offices of IBM in White Plains, N.Y.
They had two sons, Will and David, both of Atlanta.
When it came time to retire, the Thomasons wanted to come home to Greenville, Armstrong said.
“They were living the happy retirement golden years,” said Bob Atkinson, a neighbor. “They were nice people, the kind you like to have for a neighbor.”
Armstrong said they were involved in philanthropy and the civic life of every community they had lived in. And once they came back to Greenville, they became active in their church, at the Peace Center, the Palmetto Land Trust, the Greenville Symphony, historic preservation.
“She always did everything she said she was going to do,” McCuen said.
“She was passionate about everything she did,” said Armstrong. “You accept a job and you do it, and she certainly did that.”
Mrs. Thomason was a member of the Assembly and an expert gardener.
“The inside of her house is like walking into a magazine of Southern homes and gardens,” McCuen said.
They built their large brick home at the corner of Crescent Avenue and Capers Street in 1998.
McCuen said they planned the celebration of marriage ceremony because “they wanted to show everybody what love was all about.”
The basis for the Thomasons’ strong marriage, Armstrong said, was respect for each other and communication.
“You have to really listen,” she said.
On that January day earlier this year, Mrs. Thomason wore a demure checked suit and carried a small bouquet. Mr. Thomason slipped a boutonniere in the lapel of his dark suit. It was a simple ceremony, attended by immediate family, siblings and three couples. Another woman who attended had, like Armstrong, been a bridesmaid.
They all know what a friendship that spans decades is all about.
“That’s real important to us,” Armstrong said.
They went to lunch at High Cotton. Then the family changed clothes and had a portrait taken beside the Reedy River at Falls Park.
The next picture the Thomasons took was at Victoria Falls on the Zambezi River in southern Africa where they went to celebrate their anniversary.
Africa was on their bucket list of places to visit in the world, McCuen said. It was the only place left on the list.
“Woo and Bill profoundly impacted our lives, and we are devastated by this loss,” Armstrong said. “Woo was never idle. Neither heaven nor earth will ever be the same.”