Marshall, Lion, Union Rep. and Life Deacon
Donald Thom is a ‘Special Person’
Pull Quote: “I must say that I have enjoyed life to the fullest. It has been eighty-five good years to date. I have played my little part in this beautiful country to the best of my ability. I am proud of that fact. Honestly, I can’t complain.”
By Leon Suseran
This week’s ‘Special Person’, octogenarian Donald Alexander Thom, is a simple, but dedicated son of the soil who has given almost all of his working years to public service in Guyana.
Born at Fyrish Village, Corentyne, on March 6, 1926 – the fifth child of Donald Alexander and Nellie Lillian Thom – the young Donald in his late teenage days moved to New Amsterdam in 1944 to join the Public Service, and subsequently married his beloved sweetheart, Ivy Beatrice Roberts, a school teacher at the time.
They met at a Congregational Youth Conference, with both of them at the time being members of the Guyana Congregational Union of Churches.
“It took us to Buxton in 1946, and we eventually got married in 1950. My wife, at one time was Deputy Mayor of New Amsterdam. She served the council 13 years.”
Their happy union produced 9 children, the eldest of whom, Keith, is a West Indian-trained lawyer and is presently serving as Crown Counsel in Antigua. Their other children also hold prominent positions in their respective vocations.
“My wife is now deceased; she died in January of last year, a few months shy of our 60th wedding anniversary,” he recalled.
During our interview, Donald pieced together several of his more vivid memories – the most gratifying he recalls, being his tenure around the Courts.
“I joined the Magistrate’s Department and the High Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature as a First Marshall II, and I held that position from 1969 to 1981, after which I retired. I was then re-employed for an additional eight years… I guess I must have been doing my job the right way,” he said with a broad smile.
He continued: “Some of my duties included working with the judges…something that gave me solid perspective in my life…serving summonses, doing levies, debt-owing, you name it. As you could imagine, there were dangerous and bizarre experiences along the way…and some which presented interesting challenges and scenarios.”
He described one such scenario.
“One of the most memorable moments in my working life was in 1979 when I had to go and seize a ship…It wasn’t easy, you know, the job of the Marshall gives you a fair bit of responsibility and authority, and yes, you can seize a ship!”
He said that the persons on the ship had owed debts and the vessel was moored at the Georgetown Wharf.
“I was supposed to go up on the mast of the ship and put the summons on the mast,” he reflected.” “I started wondering how I would reach so high. I guess my countenance gave me away.”
“I wasn’t climbing up there!” he chuckled.
“I thought to myself, ‘someone on the ship would have to go up and take down the summons, anyway, so why not let that person take it up, and give the process its legitimacy?”
“They (the crew) cooperated, he recounted fondly. “The same people who owned the ship, graciously had someone help me to put it up. It was not necessarily how it should have been, but I could not have put it directly in their (the owners) hands,” he said.
Other significant aspects of his life then came flowing back to him.
“I also have been a member of the Executive Committee of the Guyana Congregational Union, the Lions Club of New Amsterdam in 1982 and served as its President from 1989-1990. I was an Executive Member of the Guyana Public Service Union and the union representative of the Guyana Public Service Commission…oh yes, and a member of the Guyana Community Council of USA, which serves the needs and concerns of Guyanese and provides scholarships,” he proudly asserted.
“I have also been a member of the Mission Chapel Congregational Church, for over 50 years, and because of my devotion to the work of the Lord, I have been elevated to the position of Life Deacon since 1989.”
Thom was elected Deacon of Mission Chapel in December 1958; Treasurer 1967-1988 (the longest serving individual in that capacity) and, as mentioned, Life Deacon in 1989.
During the years 1982 and 1990, he represented the Guyana Congregational Union (GCU) at consultations sponsored by CWM in Jamaica.
He was appointed Member of the Rehabilitation Committee of the Mission Chapel Church in 2002 and a member of the Bi- Centenary Committee, during which he was duly honoured. He was coordinator of the church’s celebrations. At present, he is Co-Chairman and Coordinator of the 192nd Church Family Reunion Committee.
Thom also vividly recalls attending Labour College for one year in Moscow…and why not?
“First of all, you had to learn a little bit of Russian… by now I have forgotten all of it (laughs heartily)…it’s a difficult language, you know, because the first thing you had to do was to learn basic Russian. And let me tell you, there was nothing basic about it,” he reflected.
He also spoke of actively pursuing Trade Union activities and attending meetings all across the Caribbean, while the union tried to “work out strategy dealing, carry out meaningful negotiations with the government and make serious representation”. He was the second and third Vice President of the union.
Thom did leave Guyana for about five years to be with his children in the United States, where he was involved in and became a member of the Fort Greene Senior Citizens Centre in December 1996.
“I was involved with Dancercise, Duplicate Bridge and Stretch For Life classes which I found extremely interesting. Generally, my attachments with the Centre have provided me with an opportunity to broaden my horizon and widen my circle of friends. I had the good fortune of doing escort duty during the 21st Century Women observance.”
As was expected, there was a little bit of a detour from the workmanlike aspects of his eventful existence. It was something he needed to get off his chest.
“I used to attend cricket matches at Bourda. I loved my cricket, but my enthusiasm was dampened by a pickpocket. I did recover my wallet sometime later…empty, of course. It happened to me a second time, I was in a bus and a man sat near to me and when I came off the bus, no wallet…No more Bourda for me!”
“There was another interesting experience in my life. It was when my Morris Oxford motor car was stolen, first in 1978… and then again a few years later when I attended a Mighty Sparrow Show at the National Cultural Centre. On the first occasion I found it back in Sheriff Street. The other occasion, I left it in the Ministry of Agriculture compound at Regent Street… and in a blink, I lost the car. I found it back at Better Hope.”
Thom liked playing cricket and dominoes. “Those were my main hobbies,” he said. Today he enjoys entertaining guests and friends. “I always observe my birthday and I Iike having [guests], and providing drinks for people.”
Interestingly, he is good at homemaking. “I can bake cake, I can make drink—local drink, I have a lot of five-finger trees at the back of my yard, golden apple, cherries…they never waste. I make black cake at Christmastime. Even when my wife was alive, I used to do the home decoration, put up the blinds and everything, you know? I’m a little bit of a cook.”
The amiable senior citizen enjoys a “good Guyana cook- up” and must have his vegetable soup every Sunday. “I must have it (soup) and I like my curry and metemgee…along with the usual Guyanese pepperpot. “I eat all kinds of meat, wild-meat, labba, turtle…I’m not missing out!”
Thom, not too mobile these days, had a mishap a few weeks ago, on August 1, whereby he was blown down by a squall, on Republic Road in New Amsterdam, while he was attending a Sunrise Church Service at Mission Chapel for Emancipation Day.
“I have a bit of arthritis in my right thumb and I am doing home therapy as well for pain in my left hip and waist. God has been good to me over the years… and my children, they look after me very well. They call me every week to ensure that I’m still rolling along.”
Today, he lives with a daughter-in-law and a few family members at his Winkle, New Amsterdam residence.
Thom insists there are few regrets but a little bit of personal sadness.
“I must say that I have enjoyed life to the fullest. It has been eighty-five good years to date. I have played my little part in this beautiful country to the best of my ability. I am proud of that fact. Honestly, I can’t complain. I was saddened when my wife died…It was sixty years, how could I just forget those beautiful times. It took me some time to get over the sadness, but I’m going alright.”
And, of course, someone at his age would have words of wisdom for the youths. His advice to them is “as far as your health and well being is concerned, be very careful. Take life one day at a time, don’t rush it. Life is to be enjoyed…do not destroy yourselves. Your youth is something to cherish.”
To Donald Alexander Thom, Guyana is definitely home and absolutely the place for all who live here to spend the rest of their lives.
“I love my country. They have a lot of Guyanese when they go and live abroad for a few years and you tell them about coming home they say, ‘That place?’ Honestly, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Guyana is an exceptional country…nowhere else will do.”