Robert E. "Bob" Thomas, the county’s first (and longest serving) CAO, is celebrating his 90th birthday today. The photo above shows Thomas (at right) with Supervisors Bruce Nestande and Harriett Wieder shortly after his retirement in 1985. The County's Hall of Administration was officially named for him at this presentation. Below is an image of that building under construction in 1975.
Thomas was hired as the county's Building Services Director in 1963. He couldn't actually take the job until early 1964, as he was still on active duty as a U.S. Navy captain stationed in San Diego. (I'm told he's a veteran of Pearl Harbor.) Once on the job, he oversaw the development of many major county facilities, including jails and the new Orange County Courthouse in Santa Ana.
He must have impressed the Board of Supervisors, because in Fall 1967 they unanimously selected him to be the County's first Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).
In that position, he oversaw the growth and development of the county in an era of explosive population and budget growth. In fact, the county budget grew from less than $100 million to more than $1 billion during his years at the helm.
Upon Thomas' retirement, Supervisor Nestande call him "a longtime public servant, who has guided this county through its dramatic, unprecedented years of growth, helping this board cope with increasing needs and responding to the desires of various constituents as well as the mandates from the state and federal governments... Bob Thomas kept us on a realistic fiscal basis; he organized and supervised a responsive, aggressive and imaginative county government structure..."