Co-founder of restaurant franchise firm Thomas & King, dies

Business executive Douglas M. Wilson, 66, one of the founders of the restaurant franchise firm Thomas & King, has died.

Mr. Wilson, who moved to Lexington from Greenville, S.C., a few years ago, apparently passed away overnight in his sleep, longtime friend and business associate Mike Scanlon said Tuesday.

"Doug had a bigger-than-life personality," Scanlon said. "If he saw somebody on the side of the road he would stop, even at his own peril. He loaned money to people he didn't know; he would do things for people when he had no idea who they were.

"He was the consummate giver and doer of things for people, and he almost never talked about it."

Mr. Wilson was senior executive vice president at Thomas & King, the nation's 19th-largest restaurant franchise company and the sixth-largest Applebee's franchisee. The Lexington-based company has more than 5,500 employees and operates 88 Applebee's restaurants and six Carino's Italian restaurants in Kentucky and five other states.

Scanlon, president and CEO of the company, said he and Mr. Wilson went into business together in Greenville 33 years ago.

"We owned a residential real estate and property management company together," he said. "We spent a good deal of time picking out real estate sites for different restaurant brands, then bought the Applebee's development rights and started Thomas & King."

"In those early days, Doug was my boss. He was the entrepreneur's entrepreneur. He was the great keeper of good character. Doug taught me about good character and good manners."

Scanlon remembered Mr. Wilson as a skilled businessman whose specialty was "creative deal-making."

"He was well known for being creative in making deals occur," he said. "He was the company director of mission impossible. If we had something that was impossible to do, Doug was the one who got it done."

But Mr. Wilson also was equally quick to extend his energy and creativity beyond business when he saw a need, Scanlon said.

He noted that Mr. Wilson lost a son to a rare, unexplained illness called cyclic vomiting syndrome several years ago. Mr. Wilson launched a foundation in his son's name, raising money for research and helping families affected by the illness.

Mr. Wilson is survived by a son, Douglas Jr.; his significant other, Vicki Sharif of Lexington; and his former wife, Cathy Wilson, Scanlon said.

Funeral services are pending in Greenville, S.C., where the Mackey Mortuary will be in charge of arrangements.

A memorial service will be held in Lexington, possibly later this week, Scanlon said.