Thomas was adopted as a baby but his adoptive mother died when he was five. His father remarried three times and Thomas had an unsettled childhood.
He did not learn he was adopted until he was 13, from his grandmother.
From the age of 12 he worked in the restaurant business. He was a high-school dropout and left home after the 10th grade. He founded the Wendy's franchise restaurant chain in 1969.
He was on the boards of directors of the Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio and the St. Jude Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and won the Horatio Alger Award in 1979.
In 1992 he established the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, to promote adoption law simplification and reduce the costs of adopting in the USA.
He had a quadruple heart by-pass operation in 1996 and his kidneys failed in 2001.
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