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Thomas memorialised as Comrade for life, education visionary

Published:Monday | October 18, 2021 | 12:06 AMCecelia Campbell-Livingston/Gleaner Writer
James Thomas Sr
James Thomas Sr
Thomas was eulogised as a man who had a passion for education.
Thomas was eulogised as a man who had a passion for education.
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The late James Alexander Thomas Sr, who died on August 11, was recently hailed at a memorial service as a “Comrade for life” by councillor for the Hayes division, Scean Barnswell.

Thomas, who died from complications associated with COVID-19, was the owner of the Versalles Hotel in May Pen, Clarendon.

Hailing his staunch support for the People’s National Party (PNP), Barnswell said Thomas’ commitment was shown in the way he made his resources at the hotel’s meeting rooms available to the political organisation.

Sharing that at times he felt as if he was a shareholder in the hotel, Barnswell said whenever there was a meeting, they had unreserved use of the meeting rooms “up to the presidential rooms”.

The one requirement Jim, as he was fondly called by friends and colleagues alike had, was that there should be no ganja smoking on his property.

“He was a respectful Comrade. You dare not come on the property and smoke marijuana or behave unruly,” Barnswell recalled at the memorial, which was held on October 8.

Highlighting Thomas’ commitment, he reminisced on the time when the Cubans came to Jamaica to install lightbulbs. He said Thomas made preparations for them not only at the hotel, but also at his property on Glenmuir Road, even though he received no money to feed them. Barnswell shared that he did it from his heart.

“He was a Comrade and a Comrade for life. You dare not speak ill of the PNP in his presence, and if he was cussing the party, don’t join him and cuss it,” Barnswell said.

Gaye Dunkley and Lois Swaby, representatives of Middlesex International College, the institution Thomas founded, recalled their former boss’ passion for education.

Sharing that after the institution failed, that same passion saw him partnering with the HEART Trust NSTA so that education could continue.

One particular conversation stood out in Swaby’s mind and she said it was him sharing his vision for the place. She said he wanted it to be a sort of university village.

“He said, ‘That is why I built all these cottages and these houses so that students could come by and we have good education going. If we have education, then our community would be developed and we wouldn’t have so much crime, enuh’ teach and that was my aim’,” she stated.

Jeanette Needham, who started working at the hotel in 1998, said when she came she was told Thomas was miserable, didn’t love his workers and he treated them badly.

She recalled an altercation she had with him. She said that during a period when the hotel was laying off staff, Thomas called and needed something to be done. Being short-staffed, she left her post to answer the phone which was ringing in the restaurant. However, by the time she got there it stopped. She eventually answered it in the bar, where she heard it ringing next.

“He said he wanted a particular worker, while letting out some expletives.” She said she responded to him in the same colourful language and he asked if it was really her. She told him yes, and he immediately apologised, giving her a chance to explain what happened.

She concluded that where Thomas was concerned, if you wanted respect, you first had to show it to him.

cecelia.livingston@gleanerjm.com