I still remember when my teenage nephew Joe Finch, who worked for the GWDC, asked me if I would consider working for Maria, as she had been looking to hire a secretary. I had two young children at the time (they both worked for Maria eventually as well), and thought it could work out as I lived only a few blocks from the GWDC's office.
My youngest son was just entering first grade, and I thought it was time for me to re-enter the work force. I met Maria and told her I didn't know much about the computer, but I could learn. She said on the spot, “If you are related to Joe, then you are hired.”
She asked if I could start that day, and the rest is history. I’ve been her secretary for 18 years since.
Through the years, I would often recall to Maria how my friends and I used to get chased as teenagers from the P.S. 97 schoolyard by “some lady” who yelled that we weren’t supposed to be there.
We would always end up roaring in laughter, because little did we know that I would end up working for that “lady” for 18 years.
Maria was not a nine-to-five kind of gal. She worked tirelessly, sometimes not sleeping for 24-plus hours. She fought every fight.
I would tell her, "Maria, you are not going to win, it will take so much work and time, let's not." She would say we have to try to "fight the good fight," and refused to give up. She did eventually win many of those fights.
Once, I stumbled upon a file cabinet filled with Forest Park Carousel petitions, letters, and other paperwork. She had re-opened the case many times to try to get it landmarked, and after more than 25 years, with the help of elected officials and many other organizations, it came to fruition. Her "Jewel of Forest Park" was landmarked.
Another big fight was the closing of a local firehouse. Again, another battle won. It took time and many were afraid it would close, but Maria didn't let that happen.
One of her recent battles was against the Department of Transportation over Select Bus Service (SBS), as the agency were trying to eliminate cars from making left turns onto Jamaica Avenue, a move that would have negatively impacted local business.
I thought, “no way can you beat them,” but she did. We got our left turns back and this saved her beloved Jamaica Avenue commercial strip.
Boy, did she loved Jamaica Avenue. I would tell Maria I was going shopping, and her comment would always be, "I hope you are shopping on Woodhaven's Jamaica Avenue, the Everything Avenue."
She cared about her mom-and-pop stores, always checking to see that they were okay. Many would call the office, and Maria knew just what to do to help each and every storeowner that came by.
Maria was one of the most patriotic people I knew. After 9/11, Maria flew into action. She had flyers made up that said "God Bless America" and tons of flags on hand for anyone that wanted them.
Every year since, the GWDC has held a 9/11 Remembrance Meeting with glowsticks, flags and that famous "God Bless America" flyer distributed to all.
There are also a few stories most people don't know about Maria that exemplify how hard she worked. One year, she stayed at the office until 3 a.m. (“burning the midnight oil,” she would say) to ensure that everything was set up perfectly for best street fair in Queens, The Wonderful Woodhaven Street Fair!
She also did this with the annual GWDC Dinner Dance, as we stayed up well past midnight (she wouild say “just a few more minutes,” which meant at least another hour) putting the finishing touches on the table settings and decorations.
I’ll never forget the Holidays in Woodhaven event when we couldn't find the Santa suit and Mayor Michale Bloomberg was scheduled to attend. What, no Santa? I panicked while Maria kept her cool, and assured me that we would find it.
Sure enough, we did. We forgot to pick it up from Spirare Cleaners, more commonly referred to as Charlie's Cleaners, from the year before. Oops!
Lastly, the Woodhaven Developments article. In the entire 18 years of working for Maria, only a handful of times was she not able to write a weekly article, and those were extreme circumstances. We may have been late with it a few times (sorry editors), but it got there.
I can remember her calling me on one of her very rare road trips, she hardly ever took vacations, dictating the article to me. I could barely hear her through the traffic noise, but together we got it done.
On another occasion, Maria was on her way to Florida to visit her relatives, and at 6 a.m., to my surprise, the article slipped through my mail slot, followed up by a call a little later from the airport asking me if I got the article and “please send it to the newspapers ASAP.”
Recently, while in rehab for her knee operation, Maria called me and I heard her say to the nurse, "I am on a very important phone call, I won't be long." Yes, if you didn't already know, that was the article being dictated to me.
Sometimes I would think, “you have got to be kidding, I’m getting this article now at 10 p.m.,” but that was the night owl she was. Maria was always so kind, grateful and loving to her staff, so we didn’t mind.
I wish now, day or night, we could do the article together just one more time. I hope in writing this that I have made Maria proud. It was a pleasure to have worked for her for so many years.
In the early years, Maria would end her article with "Woodhaven, A Small Town Haven In The City." In the later years, she altered the ending to be patriotic, and it became the God Bless America theme.
In closing, I hope with your permission Maria, I add one last line to this article: May God bless our armed forces, may God bless our disabled veterans, may God bless our leaders, may God bless our NYPD and officers everywhere, may God bless our America, and may God bless our Maria A. Thomson.