Bruce Thomas: The Happy East Pier Buddha

Bruce Thomas is enjoying life on East Pier  |  photo by Kat Finck  |   post by Christina Leimer

Walk along East Pier and you’ll easily locate Bruce Thomas’ boat. The Happy East Pier Buddha collecting coins for Save the Bay marks the entrance. “When I make contributions, I sign them The Happy East Pier Buddha, so that’s how they address their thank you notes to me,” he laughs, leaning back in his living room chair. Bruce dresses his Buddha statue for the holidays. I’ve seen it wearing a Santa hat, Valentine’s Day heart, St. Patrick’s Day clover, and pink Easter bunny ears.

East Pier Buddha at Valentine’s Day

Moving to the San Francisco Bay Area was his youngest daughter’s idea. Moving to the floating homes community was Zillow’s. Bruce was living in Boulder, CO. He’d graduated from the University of Colorado 40 years earlier and returned there after a divorce. His daughter, Kat Finck, urged him to come north. When Zillow brought up a floating home for sale, he was intrigued, but not convinced. Then he visited, made an offer, and the pieces tumbled into place. The sale closed in January 2018, but “I’m a skier,” he tells me, smiling. “Nobody leaves Colorado during ski season.” Then he went to Boston, where he spends his summers. In September, he wandered on over to his new home in Sausalito and promptly installed solar panels and heating as part of a remodel.

Bruce’s career was in television sales and marketing. After 7 years at a TV station in New Orleans, he spent the next 30 living in Connecticut, commuting by train 1 ½ hours each way to work in Manhattan. “When I started at CBS, it was the days of Cronkite and Rather,” he reminisces, laughing at sounding like an old man. “CBS, ABC and NBC were all right there, it was the place to be. We felt a responsibility, because we were licensed by the government. Our job wasn’t to create the world, but to reflect what’s happening, be a step behind, not ahead.” Subsequently, he worked at the Discovery Channel and for sports franchises that owned their own network, including the Yankees’ YES network.

and at Easter | photos by Bruce Thomas

When he retired, in 2008, two of his children lived in Texas. His wife wanted to be near them, so they left the East Coast for a town of 5,000 people north of Dallas/Fort Worth called Pilot Point. “The downtown square was straight out of the old West,” with cowboys and some vacant and boarded up storefronts and a gazebo.

Not one to be inactive, Bruce started working for the town, helping to revitalize it as part of a national effort called the Main Street Project. It didn’t take long for his marketing instinct to kick in. The bank building in the town square was one of the locations where Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway filmed Bonnie and Clyde, a 1967 movie that won two Academy Awards and was nominated for others. Bruce’s idea? Bonnie and Clyde Day. “We got some criticism for celebrating a gangster,” he says. “But we were celebrating the movie being made there, not criminality.” He’s proud of his contribution: Bonnie and Clyde Day is now in its 10th year.

Bruce enjoys painting as a hobby—land and seascapes he calls simple and abstract. When he was in Boulder, he painted mountains. Here he paints the bay. “Retirement’s a funny thing,” he tells me with a grin, and I ask how. “I don’t know what I’m busy doing, but I’m as busy as when I was working, just doing what I want to do instead of what I have to.”

True to form, when Bruce arrived in his new floating homes community, he jumped right in. He played Santa at East Pier’s winter holiday party. Now he’s helping with publicity for the September 2019 floating homes tour. After that, who knows? His motto is enjoy today, instead of living for the future or worrying about the past.