Dave Thomas was angry when, as a teenager, he learned he was adopted. He believed he should have been told sooner. His second reaction was embarrassment: "Please don't tell anyone else."
Had someone told the 13-year-old that decades later he would bring adoption into almost every conversation, he would not have believed it. But discuss it he does, as a spokesman for the Bush administration's "Adoption Works . . . for Everyone" campaign. The campaign promotes adoption, with emphasis on adoption of special-needs children.Thursday, members of the Utah Adoption Council presented Thomas, founder of Wendy's International, with a T-shirt that reads: "Adoption - One of Dave's specials," a word play on TV commercials for his hamburger chain.
Thomas was born to an unwed young woman and was adopted when he was six weeks old. His adoptive mother died when he was 5, but his adopted grandmother filled many of the voids in his life. Although he didn't always get along with his adoptive father, Thomas believes that the adoption brought into his life "lots of people who helped me along the way. And hard work helped me a lot as well."
The years of hard work are described in his book, "Dave's Way." Besides describing how he worked his way up in the restaurant business starting when he was 12 to opening his own chain in 1969, he discusses the importance of adoption. The book also includes a beginner's guide to adoption, with concise information on the process. All book profits have been donated to adoption causes.
When Thomas agreed to speak in support of adoption, his first step was establishing an adoption benefits program at Wendy's. Employees who adopt receive financial assistance and time off to help with the process. He then contacted other corporations to encourage them to include adoption expenses in their benefit packages.
"This is not a waste," he said. "There are hundreds and hundreds of special-needs children. If you never had a family of your own, it's really important. Believe me, if you have never seen your mother and father, you don't take it for granted.
"I won't lie to you. We want to sell hamburgers and chicken sandwiches. But this is a way to give back something, too. Everyone deserves a home and family."