Omar puts bite on snaky official
By Frank ‘Buzz’ Trexler | (email@example.com)
They called him “Fate.”
But his real name was Lafayette C. Thomas, and in 1974 he was sheriff of Davidson County, having been elected to the post in 1972.
More than that, he was considered by many to be the most powerful politician in Davidson County.
Poring over newspaper and magazine clips, Fate Thomas is seen everywhere with nearly everybody.
Here’s Fate on the December 1978 and June 1981 covers of Nashville! magazine, the latter as part of a dining guide photo accompanied by T.G. Sheppard and Mario Ferrari.
There’s an undated clip of Fate and his then wife, Miki, hanging with Waylon Jennings and Jessie Colter, as well as a February 1984 Page 1A photo in the Nashville Banner with Charlie Daniels.
But as you read the interviews, it wasn’t the stars who fueled Thomas’ political powerhouse, it was Fate himself.
In a 1983 interview with Nashville Banner reporter Mike Pigott, Thomas tells of having grown up in South Nashville. While his father was a railroad engineer, Thomas said his mother was a nurse who was “always interested in politics and worked in campaigns.”
The future Davidson County sheriff was driving voters to the polls for a council candidate before he even had a license.
And that early training paid off.
In the December 1978 Nashville! magazine interview, the then-four-term sheriff tells writer Bob Allen, “Some people say I’m a political animal, and I am. I go to places and see people and meet people, and I do well with them. When they have an opening somewhere, I’m there. When somebody gets promoted, I call ’em and congratulate ’em. When people have birthdays, I try to remember them. ... Usually my secretary gives me a list of people who are havin’ birthdays and I call ’em.
“When I sit down to talk to people, it’s usually by precincts. And I know somebody on every street,” Thomas says. “I sit here and call them.”
It would be fate, and a rattlesnake bite, that would put Omar the Snake Man in contact with Davidson County Sheriff Lafayette C. “Fate” Thomas.
You remember Omar, right?
He’s the native Maryvillian who had something of a rattlesnake rodeo and brought it The Milan Mirror on July 17, 1974, to promote a Rotary Club fundraiser at the invitation of the newspaper’s publisher, Bob Parkins.
Parkins’ son, Victor, is editor of what is now The Milan Mirror-Exchange and has been kind enough to briefly tell “the rest of the story.”
“After he was bitten in our newspaper office and almost died, my father became very good friends with Omar, who was a very rough character that my mom didn’t care for,” Parkins shared by email.
“While he was recovering in the hospital, my dad found out that Omar had recently been released from prison for manslaughter for shooting and killing a man in a fight,” Parkins said. While in prison, Omar was a model prisoner and trustee to Sheriff Fate Thomas, who offered to put the snake handler on staff.
“Omar confided in my father about the corruption going on in the jail, and they started a very secret and dangerous investigation,” Parkins said. “When they had enough evidence, my father went to a close friend at the TBI. They set up a sting and that’s when Fate went down and eventually went to prison.”
Thomas faced a 38-count indictment alleging he used his office to funnel $500,000 in goods and services to himself. While awaiting trial in 1990, the longtime Davidson County sheriff lost the election to a former FBI agent, Hank Hillian, by a 3-to-1 margin.
Thomas spent four years in prison and, upon release, eventually worked as a car salesman, which is where Ken Whitehouse of The City Paper says he last talked to the former kingmaker. During the conversation, Whitehouse noticed Thomas was wearing a shirt with french cuffs embroidered with “RPS.” The writer asked him if that was “some sort of motto.”
“Fate smiled and said no. ‘Baby, I went to see my tailor the other day, and a woman come in while I was there and said her husband had died. She didn’t know what to do with all the shirts she had just had stitched. Well baby, I ain’t got so much pride that I can’t wear a dead man’s shirt.’”
Fate died July 25, 2000.
Fate does strange things, or maybe it has nothing to do with fate.
“During that time, my father baptized Omar, and my mother even started to like him,” Victor Parkins said. “Omar died about two years after Fate went to prison, and my father gave the eulogy.”
Buzz Trexler is managing editor of The Daily Times. You can email him at (firstname.lastname@example.org)