Thomas knows the bottom line
is the strength and richness of his community
Avery Thomas is always
working on something, either as a partner in
Burlington's largest CPA firm or as a volunteer
in one of the many civic and charitable causes he
supports. Working hard and staying busy is
something he's done all his life, even as a
teenager holding down part-time jobs. From
collecting scrap paper to driving an ambulance to
writing and working at a florist, he has always
worked. One year I had six W-2's, he
In recent years, Thomas' work has made his name
and the term community service synonymous in
Alamance County and the Piedmont Triad. A
founding partner in the Burlington CPA firm of
Thomas, Stout, Stuart, Core and Stuart, Thomas
spends about all of his free time on civic,
religious, and governmental activities throughout
Born to Charles Avery Thomas Sr. and Fannie Lee
Boone Thomas on Oct. 13, 1936, Thomas apparently
inherited his work ethic from them. He also
inherited from his parents his ability to sell
good ideas. His dad's career was spent at B. A.
Sellars and Currin and Hay clothing stores and
his mother also worked at Sellars her entire
career. Both died in 1986.
We were just ordinary working people,
Thomas says of his family. There was never
any question as to whether I would become
involved in the community (because) they were
Thomas Sr. helped his community by fighting
fires, leading the singing at church and serving
as a Boy Scout Leader. My mother was
involved as well, and she encouraged us.
He went to Fisher Street Elementary School in
Burlington and was in the first class to go all
four years at Williams High School, where he
graduated in 1955. He married his high school
sweetheart, Betty Earp, in 1957.
The Thomases have two children Scott
Thomas, who is a partner with his father in the
CPA firm, and Karen Thomas Latta, who lives in
Melbourne, Fla. She has been a director of
christian education at the First United Methodist
There are eight grandchildren in the Thomas clan,
including two sets of twins in Florida. Scott is
married to the former Nancy Sheets of Raleigh and
Karen's husband is Glenn, who designs and sells
televisions for airplanes.
While Avery Thomas is a UNC fan, the family also
has strong ties to N.C. State. Scott and his
wife, Nancy, are graduates of State and he has
also studied at Guilford and Elon. Karen is a
Carolina graduate and her husband has State and
Influenced by his father, Thomas went to the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
My dad went there and he took me to
football games as a youngster, Thomas
recalls. He attends Carolina football and
basketball games. In fact, former UNC football
coach Mack Brown still is a client of the Thomas
At Carolina, Thomas studied accounting and worked
as circulation manager for The Daily Tar Heel.
I liked math and numbers so that led me
to study accounting, Thomas says. It's a
professional decision he has never regretted.
He began his career in 1959 with Williams and
Wall, a Raleigh firm which is no longer in
Thomas studied for the CPA exam while he was
doing some work for Mt. Olive Pickle Co., where
Burlington native Johnny Walker was president.
I'm sure things are different now in Mt.
Olive, but in 1959 and 1960 there was not much to
do there so it was easy to find time to
study, he chuckles.
Of course, Thomas passed the CPA exam. His CPA
certificate number is 1891 and it was issued on
April 4, 1961. Now there are more than 27,000
CPAs in North Carolina.
In the early days of his career, Thomas worked
all over Eastern North Carolina, often working
alone. Assignments included the Bank of Raeford,
Bellamy Drugs in Wilmington, Sound Chevrolet,
Morehead Block and Tile, and Carteret County
Hospital. Governmental audits were performed for
local government in Beaufort, Morehead City,
Swansboro, Hoke County and Warren County. He also
did ABC stores in Wilson, Pitt, and Greene
counties as well as school systems.
Agricultural clients also gave Thomas a working
knowledge of this important part of North
Carolina's economy. While performing an audit for
Bertie County, Thomas helped to organize a sweet
potato cooperative. He also worked with several
peanut farmers, in addition to representing the
legendary Percy Flowers of Johnston County, who
was under an IRS investigation.
Thomas later worked with the Lindsay Squires
& Everett firm in Greensboro, which later
merged into McGladrey and Pullen. There I
had the pleasure of working with clients like
Luck's in Randolph County and Hatteras Yachts,
which was then in High Point.
His next career move was joining Fred Gilliam and
Steve Moore in his hometown of Burlington. On
Nov. 1, 1967, he started the firm which bears his
Thomas emphasizes he never intended to have a
large firm. Businesses have become more
complicated and our clients have demanded more
and broader services. There are now 64
employees, including 30 CPAs in his Burlington
His philosophy is that happy, content employees
do a better job. He also believes in encouraging
his employees to gain more knowledge and
experience in areas of accounting, which they
This has led our firm to grow in particular
niche areas such as auto dealerships, medical
practices, golf courses, and non-profit
organizations, Thomas says.
We are also growing in functional areas
such as estate planning, financial planning,
elder care planning, business valuations, and
The large Burlington firm is organized by areas
of concentration, rather than in departments, as
is the case in many large firms. There is
one partner responsible for each client with a
backup partner. Others are often brought in for
Thomas sees the advent of computers as perhaps
the biggest change in the accounting profession.
Computers have made it more exciting,
especially for the younger people, Thomas
said. The more mundane work can now be done
He sees a slight downside to a reliance on new
technology. The only distraction is people
may rely so much on the computer and software
that they forget the whys. We need to remember
the laws and rules and their importance.
Another major change is the growing entry of
women into the accounting profession. There was
one female in Thomas's class at UNC. Now, he
says, almost 60 percent of new CPAs are female.
He also believes strongly in this firm's intern
program. We like to provide opportunities
to keep Alamance young people here after they
Thomas likes to look at new areas, and he has
started a new program dealing with elder care
services. We frequently work with clients'
widows who are inexperienced at dealing with
day-to-day financial matters.
Phil Stuart has worked with Thomas since 1968
when he did an internship as a student from
Carolina. It has been a great experience
working with Avery, Stuart says. He's
been a great leader.
There are several attributes which have made
Thomas a success, according to Stuart and others.
He really has a love of this community. He
is committed to his clients. He is a unique
thinker and has the ability to analyze. He has a
very creative mind and is also very
Another partner, Tom McGowan, adds, Avery
enjoys problem-solving. He thinks out of the box,
whether it's about accounting, economic
development, or saving Chinqua-Penn. He has the
patience to make things work.
His awards are too numerous to list, although he
downplays their significance. For example, he was
Alamance County's Man of the Year in 1999 and the
year before he won the Frank S. Holt Jr. Business
Leadership Award at Elon College.
Thomas likes to emphasize the successes of his
clients, rather than his own. We enjoy
witnessing the successes and milestones of our
clients and celebrating with them.
Specifically he points to new buildings and a new
president (Dr. Leo Lambert) at Elon College, a
new first-class medical facility for Alamance
Regional Medical Center and plans for a LifeCare
Retirement Community Center, and expansion of
Chandler Concrete into Virginia.
He is especially proud of the many family-owned
businesses he has worked with over the years such
as Chandler, Holt Hosiery Mills, Huffman Oil and
Stadler's Country Hams.
The feelings expressed by clients mirror those
from Thomas himself.
Ralph Holt, CEO of Holt Hosiery Mills, says
Avery is an unselfish and tireless worker
for the betterment of his community and state.
His involvement on committees and his personal
contacts across the region have resulted in many
Butch Gunnells, president of the N.C. Soft Drink
Association, which has been a client for 11
years, says I'd characterize Avery as a
workhorse, not a showhorse. As a Duke fan, it
pains me to say he is to his community what
Julius Peppers was to UNC's basketball team
a quiet reservoir of strength who leads by
example, and just never quits.
While it's difficult to believe now, there was a
period in his professional career when he
concentrated on building his new firm.
In 1967, I dropped everything except my
church activities so I could concentrate on the
new firm, he recalls.
Partner Tom McGowan talked him into becoming a
charter member of the Rotary Club of Alamance,
and he's been active in many phases in life in
Piedmont North Carolina.
Economic development and regionalism have been
major interests of Thomas. He has done consulting
for the Department of Commerce and was heavily
involved in trying to locate major automobile
manufacturers to the Alamance County area.
He's still hopeful that a major prize
will land in Alamance. We've got the best
location. Even Mercedes said that!
Thomas somehow finds time for a few hobbies, such
as yard work and spending time in the Ocean Ridge
section of Atlantic Beach, where the Thomases
have had a second home for more than 30 years.
He continues a family tradition by being active
at the First Street Methodist Church in
Burlington. His grandmother was a charter member
and several Thomas grandchildren are now active
there. Five generations of Thomases have been
mainstays in this historic church. Just last year
he stepped down as church treasurer after 31
Thomas continues to look for new areas to
influence in a positive way.
Dick Levin, who was one of my UNC
professors, has gotten me interested in beach
preservation, although that wasn't very difficult
because I've always loved the beach, Thomas
Surprise he's now on the board of
directors of the N.C. Shore and Beach
Many of Thomas's admirers wish he would run for
public office, but that doesn't appear to be in
I enjoy the role of being supportive of
politicians, he says. I'm not really
partisan. He has served as the chair of the
Piedmont Legislative Caucus, where he has worked
effectively with key members of both parties.
Avery is a shining example of a visionary
leader. In addition to building an influential
CPA firm, he also foresaw a great benefit to
mobilizing business in his region to represent
their interests at the General Assembly,
says Jim Ahler, executive director of the N.C.
Association of Certified Public Accountants.
Gunnells sees it this way: Although I don't
get the feeling he truly loves politics, he's
made the time and effort over many years to
become politically engaged. I think he's done
this simply because he understands what federal,
state and local political leaders can do to help
his community if he's attentive, and what damage
can be done accidentally or intentionally if
folks don't pay attention to politics.
In his characteristically modest analysis of his
career, Thomas says, The profession
(accounting) has been good to me.
He is at once very unique and special, but
undoubtedly also emblematic of business people
throughout the state who made it a practice to
give back to their communities more than they
ever take, Gunnells says.
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