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Philanthropist, Community Leader Midge Thomas Honored as 2023 NYS Woman of Distinction

Philanthropist, community leader Midge Thomas with Senator Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester).

Beloved philanthropist and community leader Midge Thomas was honored on August 16 as the 2023 NYS Senate Woman of Distinction.

Each year, state senators selected one constituent to be decorated with the prestigious honor. The program highlights exemplary women from across New York whose professional or personal achievements, commitment to excellence, and accomplishments merited special recognition.

This year, Senator Jeremy Cooney (D-Rochester) selected Thomas for her decades-long service to the Rochester community.

“Research what you want to be. Make short and long-term plans. Focus on your goals. Go for it,” said Thomas, the 2023 NYS Women of Distinction Honoree.

Thomas established the Freddie Thomas Foundation to honor the legacy of her late husband, civil rights activist Dr. Freddie Thomas. The Foundation provides a free space for community organizations and has funded countless projects in Rochester, including the Jane Pittman Drinking Fountain which provided free drinking water in the center of the city.

At 96 years old, Thomas is still very active and has continued her work, inspiring the next generation of community leaders in Rochester.

“Midge truly embodied this award. For decades she was a leader in our community, fighting for humanity, liberty, and equity for all,” said Cooney. "“It was my honor to recognize Midge Thomas as my 2023 Woman of Distinction. Both Rochester and New York State had benefited from her decades-long work and were proud to present her with this prestigious award. We were deeply grateful for Midge’s relentless effort to improve our community.”

Rochester City Council Member LaShay D. Harris said her life was impacted by Thomas before she really knew who she was. "I remembered participating in the activities at the Triangle Building such as dodgeball and swimming. Activities were offered free to youth in the community. Midge Thomas had blazed a trail in her role as a stark advocate for the Rochester Community," Harris said. "As the founder of the Freddie Thomas Foundation, formerly known as the Triangle Building, located at the Harro East Building, she had become one of Rochester's First African-Americans to own a major commercial building. She had continued the work of supporting community youth which was started by the late Dr. Freddie L. Thomas, her husband. That had been just one of the many accomplishments of Mrs. Thomas."

Additionally, Thomas has been celebrated with a written biography of her life. Letters to Freddie, the Biography of Midge Thomas written by local Author Laura DiCaprio. The biography consists of letters that Midge Thomas wrote to her late husband in recent decades, talking about projects they had worked on, according to WXXI.

DiCaprio said the two years working on the biography with Midge was the most rewarding experience. "Not only had I been able to publish my first book, but I had gotten to know a phenomenal woman who had initiated positive change in the city of Rochester,” DiCaprio said. “Her dedication to helping others had inspired me to do the same. Therefore, all proceeds from the book would be donated to Downtown ROCs, a non-profit organization that created economic opportunities for youth in the city, while simultaneously adding beauty and energy to Downtown Rochester." We can all lessons from Thomas' legacy, Mayor Malik D. Evans says. "It extends beyond Rochester to the entire state," Evans said.

"Midge Thomas had etched her own legacy into the story of Rochester’s never-ending quest for equity, inclusion, and social justice."


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