Woodhaven mourns loss of longtime activist Maria A. Thomson
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Jan 16, 2018 | 3192 views | 2 2 comments | 90 90 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Maria Thomson
Maria Thomson, Executive Director of Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation and Woodhaven Business District
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Woodhaven community leader and activist Maria A. Thomson passed away on Wednesday, January 10. She died of a stroke in her sleep, according to her husband.

A wake was held on January 14 and 15 at Walker Funeral Home. A funeral mass took place at St. Thomas the Apostle Church on January 16.

Thomson was executive director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation and founded the Woodhaven Business Improvement District in 1993.

“She was an extremely classy woman,” said Mathew Xenakis, owner of Park Place Florist. “I never saw her lose her temper or get mad. She was always professional even when someone was giving us a hard time.”

Xenakis has been a member of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District from the beginning, and became president of the organization in 2003.

Through her various roles, Thomson was heavily involved with the business community. Not only did Thomson revitalize the neighborhood, Xenakis said, but she continually aided small business owners.

“If you had an issue, she took care of it, whether it was a resident or whether you got a ticket for garbage, she’d always fight and go above and beyond what she’s supposed to do,” he said. “She was persistent and got everything done.”

Throughout the last 30 years, Thomson and Xenakis spoke about two to three times a day, discussing everything from problems in Woodhaven to business advice. He recalled several instances where Thomson shaped the community by voicing her opinion.

There was a time when someone tried to open a liquor store a block away from the high school. Thomson stopped it from happening. Another time, someone tried to open a drug rehab center on Jamaica Avenue. Thomson stopped it from happening.

If there was graffiti that needed to be removed, she made it happen.

“She kept the area to par,” Xenakis said. “She wouldn’t let just anyone open or have any landlord rent to just anyone.”

Thanks to Thomson, vacancies on Jamaica Avenue were kept low. She would also write letters to big corporations and sent them demographics of the neighborhood, eventually managing to bring national chains like McDonalds, Payless and KFC to the avenue.

Hardly any of those chains were on Jamaica Avenue 15 years ago.

“It actually helped landlords because big businesses have come,” Xenakis said.

Thomson spent countless hours volunteering her time at several civic organizations. For more than 40 years, she belonged to the Woodhaven Residents' Block Association, where she also served as president for six of those years.

Thomson joined Community Board 9 and played a vital role on the Education and Parks committees over the years.

“She served the board for over 35 years and will always be remembered for her passion and tireless commitment in helping the community,” CB9 chair Raj Rampershad and district manager Lisa Gomes wrote in a Facebook post. “Maria, you will be missed and never forgotten. Thank you for your countless contributions.”

Gomes later added that Thomson was a “force to be reckoned with in the community.”

“She loved her job with the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation and the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, and she was definitely a trailblazer,” Gomes said. “She never stopped helping people and was always looking to keeping the business community working well. She didn’t give up.”

Many others in the community praised her persistence that paved the way for improvements, such as the repairs on the Jamaica Avenue elevated train line and keeping Fire Engine Co. 293 open.

In an effort to preserve Woodhaven’s character, she helped to negotiate the rezoning of Jamaica Avenue so the residential neighborhoods wouldn’t be destroyed by developments.

In 2013, her lifelong dream to have the Forest Park Carousel granted city landmark status was finally realized.

As a five-time president of the 102nd Precinct Community Council, Thomson was named the first and only 102nd Precinct Honorary Police Officer of the Month. With her connection to the council, she made sure to get extra officers patrolling Jamaica Avenue.

Stephen Melnick, a member of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, attended many 102nd Precinct Community Council meetings with Thomson during the 1980s.

He remembered her being vocal at the meetings, particularly at a time when crime was rampant in the city, and both Ozone Park and Woodhaven were plagued by constant burglaries.

“I was always a fan of hers, and I wish that more communities had people like Maria Thomson,” Melnick said. “Whenever I ran into her on Jamaica Avenue or read about what she was doing in the papers, I’d always remember Maria from back then. She was the glue of Woodhaven.”

He added that Thomson was part of a vibrant community that respected her.

“I hope they keep the traditions going,” Melnick added. “Woodhaven gives you a hometown feeling, and I know there are shop owners who give the impression that they will be there for a long time. Maria was their guide.”

Every year, Thomson organized the annual Wonderful Woodhaven Street Fair and kept the tradition of Christmas activities throughout the month of December along Jamaica Avenue.

“Christmas will never be the same without her,” said Woodhaven resident Jason Paul.

Thomson was known for her spirit during most holidays. Year after year, she brought out crowd favorites like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny to Jamaica Avenue to meet families.

She also continued events such as the annual Christmas tree and menorah lightings and Welcome Santa to Woodhaven Parade. Paul suggested that the community should rename a street in her honor.

Councilman Eric Ulrich called Thomson the “embodiment of community service.”

“Those of us who have been fortunate enough to work with Maria know that she had a heart of gold,” Ulrich said in a statement. “She was a legend, having dedicated decades of her life to the betterment of the community and the borough.”

Xenakis added that it’s going to be hard to fill Thomson’s shoes.

“I don’t think there can be a Woodhaven without her,” Xenakis said. “Honestly, no one cared like her so it’s going to be very hard. She’ll be truly missed.”

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Kathy Masi
January 11, 2018
Maria will be greatly missed - her warmth, energy, friendship and commitment to community. She is in a class of her own. A very dear and special lady.

Bob Monahan
January 11, 2018
Incredibly sad day for Woodhaven, Queens and New York City. A true legend will be missed deeply.