Harold Thomas, who retired in August as the director of the North Carolina Ferry Division, was honored today with the Outstanding Government Service Award during the Governor’s Awards for Excellence ceremony.
“When I look at the award, it’s humbling but it’s won by many people, not just myself,” Thomas said, according to a North Carolina Department of Transportation news release. “That’s every man and woman that I’ve had the honor of working with. It was truly an honor to serve with them all.”
The Governor’s Award for Excellence is the highest honor a state employee can receive for noteworthy service to the government and people of North Carolina. Thomas and 40 other state employees received awards at the ceremony Tuesday at the North Carolina Museum of History. Thomas was the only NCDOT employee to receive the award this year.
Thomas served with the Ferry Division for more than 31 years. He began as a ferry worker on the Cherry Branch-Minnesott Beach route and worked his way up to oiler, chief engineer and eventually division director. Officials said that as division director, Thomas helped steer the program into new service areas while serving as a mentor to staff.
“Harold has had a lasting and positive impact on the Ferry Division,” said Transportation Secretary Joey Hopkins. “As the Ferry Division’s director, Harold led during a time of great change for the division and the North Carolina Department of Transportation. As we moved to greater levels of accountability, Harold ensured that he had the right members on his leadership team, changing the organizational chart, creating new branches in engineering and planning and development, and elevating the Ferry Division’s human resources team.”
Thomas was also celebrated for leading efforts to modernize the Ferry Division’s fleet, adding new vessels to keep operations running smoothly and updating vessel replacement and maintenance processes. But to many of his colleagues over the years Thomas will be cherished for his dedication to the employees he helped mentor.
“He built a culture where ferry employees were valued and recognized,” said Julie White, deputy secretary for Multimodal Transportation with the NCDOT. “This was evident in the way he approached problems, encouraged and welcomed employee feedback, and prioritized his staff’s professional development.”
Under his leadership, the division launched its first seasonal, passenger-only ferry service in May 2019 and three years later introduced the first state-owned vessel for that service. The passenger ferry has reduced wait times and shortened travel times between Ocracoke and Hatteras islands. More than 75,000 passenger have ridden the Ocracoke Express in its first four seasons.
Prior to the ceremony Tuesday, past and present NCDOT and Ferry Division leadership honored Thomas in the agency’s Raleigh headquarters. Thomas received the Road Gang Award for his exemplary service with the state agency and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest award for state service granted by the Office of the Governor. Officials said Thomas gave much of the credit for his career to his colleagues at the Ferry Division and NCDOT.
“It was professional people working every single day making sure we met North Carolina’s needs,” he said. “Anyone would be proud to have worked with this group with all that we did.”