By Ed Wendell | [email protected]
This past weekend I had the honor of accepting a “Lifetime Ambassador Award” on behalf of Maria Thomson at Neir’s Tavern’s 194th Anniversary Block Party. It says a lot about Maria and her impact on our community that 5 years after her passing she is still remembered and winning awards.
I first met Maria at my first Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association meeting, back in March 2009 and within a few months I would be working alongside her, when I joined the WRBA as a board member.
Besides the WRBA, she served as Executive Director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District (WBID), Executive Director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation (GWDC), and President of the 102nd Precinct Community Council.
She was also a board member on Community Board 9 and served on the board of Jamaica Hospital. And, for many years, she wrote a column in the pages of the very paper you are reading right now, the Leader-Observer. To say she was a busy woman is definitely an understatement!
We bumped heads a lot, we had different ideas on how to approach some things, but we never lost respect for each other and we always got along well. And when we did work together on a problem we made a formidable team.
One battle we fought together was when the Department of Transportation (DOT) wanted to flip 84th Street around to be a one-way street heading south, which would have made getting into Woodhaven very difficult.
We spoke almost daily as we both worked to our strengths and gathered support. By the time of the first public hearing, we had packed the room with residents who were loud and informed. It was quite a night and was the beginning of the end for DOT’s plan, which was eventually voted down unanimously.
Another battle we fought together was on behalf of the Forest Park Carousel. By the time I got involved, Maria had been fighting to landmark the carousel for over 25 years. When a very reliable source told me that the Parks Department was considering a plan to dismantle and sell the carousel, we had to step up that battle.
We were like a two-headed monster, both of us writing articles about it and raising awareness that there was a very real possibility that Woodhaven could lose what she always called “the jewel of Forest Park.”
Eventually, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission agreed and on October 28th, 2013 (almost 10 years ago) we stood side-by-side at a ceremony at the Forest Park Carousel as it was officially made a landmark.
Something that was so close to being lost forever was suddenly being protected forever and that was a real testament to the power of working together.
Maria could be a giant pain in the neck and I mean that in the most generous way possible. She was a tremendous fighter for Woodhaven; and when she saw something wrong she would be a pain in the neck until it got fixed.
Whenever a new captain came into the 102 Precinct, I think one of the things the outgoing Captain would tell the new one was that you are going to hear from Maria – a lot!
I remember one time I was on the avenue and I saw a situation that needed immediate attention. I called her from my car and let her know and before I had finished my shopping, the police had arrived and the problem was solved.
Maria Thomson had the respect of a lot of people in a lot of positions of power and she was never afraid to wield that power on behalf of the community that she loved. She was always thinking about what was best for Woodhaven. It was what she thought of when she woke up each morning and it was what she was thinking of as she worked late into each night.
And so, I found myself very honored to accept this award from Neir’s Tavern on behalf of Maria Thomson and join all of Woodhaven in letting her husband Bob (one of the nicest men ever to live in Woodhaven) and daughter Alena know that 5 years on, Maria is still remembered and is very much missed.