Fitzgerald Thomas, one of the first Jamaicans to settle in the North England city of Bradford, Yorkshire, was remembered for his key role in developing the Jamaican communities in that region, at a well-attended funeral service recently.
The mayor of Northampton, Councillor Ulric Gravesande, headed the large body of mourners and those paying tribute to the Jamaican social worker and businessman who migrated to England in the late 1950-1960s.
At the service held in the St Francis of Assisi Roman Catholic church and presided over by Father Anthony Jackson, speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of Thomas, 81, pointing consistently to his passion and energy.
Thomas, they said, worked hard to forge the Jamaican communities into a cohesive force around social, political and economic issues, particularly in Bradford and Northampton where he lived and worked for a number of years and where he also operated a small business.
Mayor Gravesande remembered him for his work on race relations through his interactions with the police and the community. He praised Thomas for his selfless contribution to his adopted home.
Mourners were especially struck by the tribute from Thomas' 99-year-old mother, Olive Bailey, who described the first of her nine children as “a gentle and caring soul who always sought to help everyone he came in contact with”.
His two daughters — Sharon and Karen— and son Ian remembered their father as one who showed them love and taught them to be tough and independent, as he prepared them for the challenges they would face in life.
Among the others paying tributes was Nigel Guy, a leading member of the city of Bradford and brother of Jamaican Member of the Parliament for St Mary Central Dr Morias Guy, the Opposition spokesman on health.
Delivering the eulogy, Thomas' brother Harold Bailey recalled his brother's early life in the rural district of Mt Regale, St Mary, where he was born and grew up. He noted that it was among the honest, hard-working, decent and mostly Christian folks that Fitz would fashion his early life, “displaying love and kindness for all around him, and a craving for education”.
According to Bailey, it was in Mt Regale, too, that Thomas developed his thinking on social and political issues, under the influence of his grandfather, which he would take with him to England.
Thomas was among the first set of students to be admitted to the Cobbla Youth Training Centre in Manchester, under a highly touted skill training programme introduced by the Government at the time.
Bailey said that the September 12, 1957 train derailment at Kendal in the parish — which left 187 people dead and some 700 others wounded — would also expose his brother's “unselfish character”, as he was among the first responders on the scene who assisted with the rescue operations.
Thomas soon joined the wave of Jamaicans migrating to England in search of a better future, Bailey said, noting that his brother, like many others, found the early years there tough. “His determination would pay off, however, as he would go on to gain a first degree in social work from Sheffield Polytechnic Institute (since re-named Halam University). He also went on to earn various promotions including senior social worker for Northamptonshire County Council, and divisional manager, Children and Families Social Services for the London Borough of Newham and Islington.
After his retirement, Thomas provided consultancy services in social work.