HOLMBERG: The ‘naked man’ of the James River revealed

Posted at 9:02 PM, May 16, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-17 07:15:32-04

HOLMBERG: The “naked man” of the James River revealed: He’s 76, with a great tan

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Some call him Thomas. Frequent James River park user Amanda Reynolds calls him “the Yeti of the river.”

But most just call him “the naked man.”

For a generation, Thomas Roane has been frequenting the Texas Beach area of the James River Park’s North Bank.

Off and on (lately, mostly on) he takes all his clothes off to sun himself, wade in the water, or stroll through hard-to-reach places in the park.

He admits he’s naked “most of the time. I get a tan.”

He’s 76 now. He says he’s a retired engineering professor with a doctorate in agricultural engineering. He lives at the Imperial Plaza retirement home.

Roane says he goes without clothes because of the feeling of freedom he gets. “We’re all brainwashed to keep our clothes on. Even the guys are too scared to wear bathing suits that are too short. They have to wear them down to their knees. And girls can have a healthy sex life but they can’t take their tops off in public.”

Many have seen him. Some say he makes them feel a little uncomfortable, but because of his age and demeanor, he doesn’t seem threatening.

But others embrace his carefree attitude.

Yes, he’s naked most of the time, said Hannah, a Texas Beach regular. “But not in a bad way. He’s just being comfortable.” She said she hasn’t heard a single person say they feel threatened by him.

“He’s not really a menace or anything,” said Kelsey McNeal. She notes that he puts some clothes on when he’s walking the trails. But when he’s hanging out in the water, he just takes his clothes off. It’s fine.”

Roane says he’s careful to sun himself in hard to get to places, so children won’t see him. He would understand a parent with a child might get “bent out of shape.”

He admits he’s been arrested four times for nudity, the first time here some 30 years ago, back when the Richmond had park rangers. More recent court records show he was arrested for indecent exposure in 2005 – that was dismissed – and again in 2006, which earned him a conviction and fine.

Roane says he tries to ask those in the area if it’s okay to sun himself.

He recalls one 80-something-year-old woman telling him, “’I’d love to see a naked man!’”