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Statement of Appreciation of Leonard Thompson

By Hubert A. Ingraham

fnm hubertingrahambio copyLeonard Maurice Thompson is a man that Abaco ought to revere and to never forget.

It is therefore most fitting that the Government of The Bahamas is today (July 7, 2016) formally naming the Marsh Harbour International Airport in his honour.

Born in Hope Town, Captain Thompson, as he became, was first employed by the Royal Bank of Canada in Nassau.

After just one year with the Bank, young Leonard Thompson realised that a bank job was not his passion.  As he tells it in his autobiography, he “wanted wings”.  He apprenticed with Captain Charles Cellar, the American airmen who started Bahamas Airways.  Soon enough Leonard Thompson earned his wings and was engaged to fly as a Bahamas Airways pilot.

The start of World War II attracted the attention of the young Thompson.  He patriotically wanted to join the British war effort against Hitler.  He sold his possessions and travelled to Canada wishing to become a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force; something he eventually accomplished but only after first having to serve as a mechanic.

As a member of the Canadian Air Force, Captain Thompson flew 24 bomber successful missions against Nazi Germany.  His ill-fated 25th mission ended being shot down over Hamburg and he being captured by the Germans.  He was a prisoner of war for 18 months before being liberated by Russian troops in the last days of the War.

Freed from detention, Captain Thompson returned home to The Bahamas.  While in Canada, he had met and fell in love with his wife, Mary, nee Tofin.  Now he returned home to join her and their young son.  He also re-joined Bahamas Airways.

He ran for and was elected to the House of Assembly as an Independent representative for Abaco in 1949 filling one of its three seats.

This charming and personable man proved to be a faithful son of Abaco, approachable, interested and devoted to its residents across racial and political divides. He was re-elected on three subsequent occasions; twice as an Independent in 1956 and 1962 becoming the senior member from Abaco, and in 1967 as a member of the UBP.

Together with his wife and near relatives, Captain Thompson established a number of businesses in Nassau including the Elbow Room, Thompson Brothers Liquors, Brass and Leather and Dirty Dick’s nightclub.

I have had occasion before to note the humanity and courage of Captain Thompson in making his prominent place of entertainment, Dirty Dock’s, open to black patrons contrary to social norms at that time.  He was truly a man ahead of the times.  In one of those cruel twists of fate, Leonard Thompson lost his Nassau restaurant businesses to the wily practices of old Bay Street.

Captain Thompson believed in Abaco and marketed it around the world.  Indeed, he successfully marketed Sand Banks to American and British investors who transformed the area to create the Treasure Cay Resort.  On his watch also, two airports were constructed during the 1950s, one at Treasure Cay and the other at Marsh Harbour.

The development at Treasure Cay caused a transformation in our way of life in Abaco providing employment and business opportunities for residents from Sandy Point and Cherokee in the south to Crown Haven in the north.  For that and more, much more, Leonard Thompson earned our enduring respect, love and admiration.

Captain Thompson’s dedication to Abaco did not end in Treasure Cay.  In Marsh Harbour he began the development of the Abaco Beach Hotel and Marina adjacent to his home. It is still today the largest Bahamian-owned resort development in The Bahamas.

Today Abaco is pleased, really pleased that he is being honoured by the Government.

And so, on my behalf and that of many others, I say thank you.

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