After more than a dozen years as a familiar and favorite Utah television news reporter and anchor, Shelley Thomas will leave KSL Ch. 5 on Dec. 1 to become vice president for public affairs for Smith's Food and Drug Inc.

Call the move an interesting mid-career change; call it a shock for both KSL and the viewing public. Thomas herself describes the decision as being a lot "like stepping out on a ledge."She nevertheless sounds excited and eager to be there.

"I had told them a year and a half ago--a different administration here (at KSL)--that this would be my last contract simply because I had decided I needed to do something else just from a life-career-challenge standpoint."

Thomas will work right through November, local TV's viewership-measuring "sweeps month," and then will immediately shoulder her new responsibilities. But she'll be missed, admits William Murdoch, KSL's executive vice president and general manager.

"Naturally, we hate to see Shelley leave," he says, "but we fully understand her desire to make a career change and to spend more time with her young family."

Thomas, a Salt Lake native and University of Utah graduate, was first beamed into Utah homes via the newscasts of KCPX-TV (now KTVX), beginning in the mid '70s. There she held a number of positions, including anchor of the early and late evening news. In 1978 she switched to KSL, where, in addition to her duties as an anchor, she has handled special reporting assignments, earning national, regional and local journalism honors in the process, including an Emmy.

Thomas, who is married to Samuel M. Williams and has two sons, Walker and Hart, actually has been weighing her options for quite awhile, yearning for more flexibility and time with her family and considering many things she'd always wanted to do. Like attend law school. Or just take time off. Or seek out her dream job.

The Smith's position, she says, comes close to fitting certain aspects of that dream: serving as a spokesman for a major corporation, a little travel, setting up special programs, serving the community--and "the opportunity to create something from nothing."

In June a family friend, Lee Ence, told Thomas she'd heard that the food chain, which operates 95 stores in seven Western states, had decided to create the position of vice president for public affairs and was looking for someone to fill it.

Someone like, say, A Shelley Thomas.

The possibility of getting the Shelley Thomas was pooh-poohed, of course, as unrealistic...but eventually the parties got together. A pact was made. The rest we now know.

"I just think it's the challenge of starting a new career, and primary to making a change is the fact that doing two's been painful for me. I've always been able to work out family priorities, but it has been hard.

"I look forward to being in `civilian life,' as far as the hours go"--but then again, she admits, she may have to work 20 hours a day on occasion...

"I love the idea of learning a whole new field and seeing if I can put any skills I may have developed to work. But I want to make it clear that the people at KSl are going to be hard to leave."

She loves and admires her co-workers, and that includes people we at home never see--"the floor crew, the audio men, all the guys who run the cameras. You become like a little family, you bond to each other," Thomas says.

And she worries. For instance, about the young women trying to succeed in the TV news business. She broke in at the right time, Thomas admits.

"It's much harder to get on the air now. I talk to these young women and my heart breaks for them." In particular, she says, "it worries me when a young woman sets her sights on the anchor chair and nothing else.

She'll miss much. "It's been a wonderful, wonderful experience," Thomas syas. But she also sees a pattern to it all, a "cosmic arc" that makes her decision seem to be the right one.

Her father, you see, ran a grocery store.