Imagine waking up every morning before school and jumping on your horse for the ride of a lifetime. Beth Abernathy Thomas and her strawberry speckled pony, Konjo, did just that, crossing the river just down from her family’s home in Ethiopia with her dad and sister, each and every day. Ethiopia was no doubt one of the best places to live for a teenager with an adventuresome spirit, and crossing that river was almost like a rite of passage for a 16-year-old who had her whole life in front of her.
Now that Beth has concluded her adventures on this earth, leaving us all much too soon, it is somewhat comforting to think that she has crossed the river for the last time, to be with her beloved son Blake, her grandparents, and of course her heavenly father.
With that crossing, she leaves behind a lifetime of memories around the world, with so many who loved her. Susan Elizabeth Abernathy Thomas was born in Paris, Tennessee, July 9, 1955. Her dad and mom, Bailey and Betty Abernathy, were just starting out on their own lives together when Beth brightened their days with her arrival. The small, close knit military family of four traveled the world together, living in three countries and more than a dozen states.
And Beth was indeed a bright spot, not only for her family but so many who crossed her path. Those who knew her in her later years called her “an angel on earth.” Beth had a passion for life! That passion for life and people led her to a career in nursing during her early adult life. She loved caring for people, and being a nurse was a perfect match for Beth. In addition to working in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and nursing homes, she volunteered her services to take care of the less fortunate in Honduras on trips with the Episcopal church.
In the midst of her busy nursing career, Beth was raising her two young boys, Charlie and Blake. It was during that time that she met the love of her life, Richard Thomas, who became her devoted husband and father to her children for 33 years. They had so many wonderful years together in Columbus, Mississippi; and another big part of those happy years included their many pets that were also a big part of their family and life together.
Those were cherished memories for Beth. She had the family she always wanted for her and the boys, and a nursing career she loved. And she would likely have continued that path but was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in 2001. At that time, doctors told her she wouldn’t survive beyond a year. But, her family encouraged her to go to M-D Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, for treatment. Beth made numerous trips there with her mom and dad by her side, and endured grueling, aggressive treatments for two years that affected the remainder of her life in so many ways. But, she fought with a brave, indefatigable spirit; and she survived!
And while she was so thankful to have survived, the cancer and subsequent treatments riddled Beth’s body with numerous diseases, including Sjogren’s disease, lymphedema, neuropathy, and chronic fatigue syndrome; and more pain than anyone should have to endure. However, she soldiered on; and never blamed anyone or anything for the cards she had been dealt. She always looked for the positive, and despite her pain and loss of independence, she found joy in small things; small moments; and always searched for ways to make those around her happy. Pleasing others is what made Beth happiest. And she never lost sight of that even on her worst days.
Beth had even more pain to come; this time the most unbearable pain possible; when she lost her youngest son, Blake, in a tragic motorcycle accident in 2012. Coping with that loss affected Beth and her family in a profound way that no one ever fully recovers from.
But, despite her many emotional and physical battles, Beth continued to fight, and she lived 18 years cancer-free. And even though her challenges continued in cancer’s aftermath, she saw her gift of life as a blessing. She was thankful for every moment and worked so hard to focus on the positive. Beth and Richard (also known as Nana and Pops) spent as much time as possible with their grandchildren, even enjoying several amazing cruises with their oldest grandson, Aaron.
Unfortunately, cancer reared its ugly head again in 2020. The breast cancer she fought so valiantly against, spread to her lungs. This time, there would be no cure. But, treatment would give her more time. Once again, Beth fought to live her best possible life. And Richard was with her every step of the way, navigating her through those treatments and home care, during an unprecedented pandemic that made everything even more difficult. This time, despite their brave fight, the treatments would only give her 16 more months.
Beth finally lost her 20-year battle with cancer May 31, 2021, at the age of 65. And while we all wish we had more time with our sweet Beth, her final days were blessed. After a nearly year and a half of Covid-19 isolation, she spent her last weekend on earth with her husband, son and grandchildren in Tennessee. And even though she was nearing the end and wasn’t feeling well, Beth found so much joy in spending time with her family that weekend.
Beth will be remembered for her loving, giving spirit and sense of humor; and her amazing courage and grace during the most difficult of times. She was preceded in death by her son, Blake Gregory and grandparents Buck and Sue Abernathy, and Blake and Elizabeth Cowan. She leaves behind her devoted and loving husband, Richard Thomas and son Charlie Gregory, parents, Bailey and Betty Abernathy, sister, Karen Abernathy, grandson, Aaron Gregory, and granddaughter, Eva Gregory. Beth also leaves behind her loving full time canine companions she absolutely adored, Penny and Grayson.
Her funeral service will be Monday, June 7, 2021, at 1:00 P.M. at McEvoy Funeral Home in Paris, Tennessee, with Brian Wimberley officiating. Burial will follow in Memorial Cemetery. Visitation will be at McEvoy Funeral Home after 11:00 A.M. Monday, June 7, 2021, prior to the service.
Pallbearers for Beth will be Mike Nickoles, Derrick Hatcher, Al Hentsch, and Chris Butler.
Memorials may be made to: St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Memorial Fund, 318 College St., Columbus, MS 39701, (662) 328-6673 and/or Columbus-Lowndes Humane Society, 50 Airline Rd., Columbus, MS 39702, (662) 327-3107