Obituary: Tommy Wheat
For The Madera Tribune
Tommy Wheat, born Luther Thomas Wheat Sr., arrived on Feb. 17, 1945, in Lewisburg, Tennessee, in the family hospital. His grandfather was the first doctor in that part of the state, and practiced medicine with his son. That night it took family and friends to help with his birth. His mother, Gene, was upstairs in delivery and his father, Luther, and family friends were in the basement of the hospital trying to keep the boiler lit. A storm had blown in and the basement was flooding. His dad drove a truck from Tennessee to Madera and brought Tennessee walking horses to California. There he found their future in Madera. He called his wife and told her to bring Tommy, as they were moving to California. Tommy was 5 years old when he stepped off the train and got his first glimpse of the ‘golden state’, a small town called Madera.
He loved drag racing his whole life, as his father was a founder of the Madera Clutchers. As a youngster, he turned his bike, lawn mower and any other piece of equipment with wheels into quarter mile winners. As a nine year old, he was driving his dad’s truck to push start his dad’s “The Traveler” coupe in the alley behind their house.
Everyone knew when the Wheats were working on their car, and even into his adulthood, Tommy could be found in the garage tinkering, eventually building his own dragster. His racing career was cut short, as Tommy was called to duty in the United States Army in 1969. He served his tour in Vietnam, and, at one time, he lived with the Mountain Yards, a local tribe, where he learned to love kimchi. He would trade his GI rations with the locals to get ahold of the delicacy, the spicier the better. His fellow soldiers believed the spice would kill any bugs they may pick up!
He was an engineer and one of the projects in Vietnam was building a bridge. He said they would build it and the enemy would blow it up, so they would rebuild it. He always laughed and said he never did find out if they ever finished that bridge.
He would tell a story of arriving in-country, the plane touched down, the front and back doors of the plane were thrown open, and as the new recruits disembarked through the rear doors, the fellows going home boarded the plane in the front. The plane was on the ground for maybe 30 minutes, if that, and then took off. Hot, humid and rainy just about summed up the environment and he remembers once breaking out for formation in field jackets. They were so cold and found out that it was in the 80s. Tommy was very proud of his service to his country, and it hurt him when he came home and was greeted with such distaste from the American people. He loved the flag and all it stood for. When Tommy was discharged, in 1971, he returned to Madera.
He met Fran, his beloved wife in 1971; courted and married her in less than 30 days. He was never one to waste time when he knew what he wanted! They were able to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Oct. 9, 2021, like so many other celebrations, holding hands and enjoying their time together. It was rare to see one without the other. After 17 years of marriage, God blessed them with a son, Luther Thomas Wheat, Jr aka TJ. He was the apple of his dad’s eye. Tommy encouraged TJ to work on the race cars, even if he found many things in gas tanks like plums, sticks or rocks. TJ’s work was poking anything into any hole on the car! (To be fair TJ was 3 years old).
Tommy had Christ in his heart and loved listening to someone read the bible to him. His small group at church was a highlight of his week. He believed that God had a plan for him and would pray that he would be a Good steward of that plan. He believed that he would close his eyes here on earth and open them in heaven! He would be home with his heavenly Father and his brothers and sisters in Christ.
Tommy passed away peacefully on June 19, 2022 at the family home, surrounded by his wife and son. He is preceded by his father, Luther E Wheat, his aunts, uncles, and grandparents. He is survived by his wife, Fran, his son, TJ, and his mother, Gene Anderson, all of Madera. Also surviving is his brother-in-law Fred Smith of Clovis, sisters- and brothers-in-law Patti and Butch Jones of Stockton, Sharon and Steve Himmel of Idaho; cousins Brenda and Rocky Cook of Indianapolis, Indiana, Lori and Aiken Gillespie of Tennessee, Therese and Larry Anderson of Tennessee; many nieces and nephews, and his brother of choice, Mokey Cowger of Madera.
A “Celebration of his Life” will be held July 9, 2022 at 11 a.m. at Cornerstone Community Church, 208 Fig Tree Road, Chowchilla, CA.
Remembrances may be made to Cornerstone Church, Cancer Society or donor’s favorite charity.