‘Naked man’ of the James River banned from beloved park

Posted at 12:10 AM, Jul 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-02 14:21:51-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The man fighting for nude sunbathing in one fairly remote stretch of the James River Park will turn 80 in November.

The infamous "Naked Man" - aka "The Yeti of the River" - has Parkinson's Disease and lives in a vast retirement community, where he's known for jokes and magic tricks.

Thomas Roane, a retired agricultural engineering professor who worked at Richmond Professional Institute (now VCU), had been busted five times for sunbathing in the buff, the first time 30 years ago.

He was arrested for indecent exposure again in the Texas Beach area on June 7.

Thomas Roane at one of his favorite spots in 2013

Thomas Roane at one of his favorite spots in 2013

The river was up and Thomas was sunning himself on a big rock when he heard the voice of authority.

"He said something and I turned around and looked and there was an officer looking at me," Thomas said with a chuckle. "I knew immediately he was going to write me a ticket and take me back to court."

I interviewed the Naked Man down by the river in 2013.

Why does he do it?

"Because I enjoy it. It's fun and it's free," he told me then. "It's the mental freedom that you have. We're all brainwashed to keep our clothes on."

Is he proud of his body?

"Proud of it? Not particularly. I like my tan. The girls tell me they like my tan."

Mark Holmberg and Thomas Roane

Mark Holmberg and Thomas Roane

He is known not just for nudity (and he's not always nude), but for helping park users negotiate slippery rocks, picking up trash and broken glass.

Now he's been banned from all city parks, again.

Which is devastating - and wrong, he believes. He wants the local laws changed.

For all of his years of nudity, "I don't remember anyone coming up to me and saying, 'Thomas, you really shouldn't be doing that.' Nobody - church people, working people, other people . . .

"Two different state Supreme Court judges ruled in two different cases that nudity itself is not obscene. To be indecent you have to do something that is weird, crude, rude and all those kind of words."

Thomas Roane

Thomas Roane

Thomas said he has more than 300 signatures on a petition to allow nudity in one portion of the park.

He has hired a lawyer, but to take it up through the court system to fight the law itself would take more money than he has.

And he wishes he could still use his beloved river park.

"It gets me away from my head that's been uncomfortable for years and years," he said. "There's some kind of pain to it. It's not really painful, but aspirin doesn't help or nothing helps it."

He said he's been treated with psychiatric medications, but they haven't helped either.

A nice, free walk in the James River Park does, he said.

"It's restful, it's peaceful," Thomas said. "It gives me something to do to stay busy all day instead of sitting in the chair and rocking, getting old and dying."

Do you agree with the city’s decision to ban the 79-year-old "naked man" of the James River from all parks? Weigh in on the WTVR CBS 6 Facebook page.