Sept. 8, 1933 – Sept. 29, 2017
… A man of quiet vision, focus, few words, hard work, and discipline …
A grassroots Belizean visionary and pioneering entrepreneur, who left his mark, and gained the world without losing his soul.
Boston, MA, October 12, 2017
This week, Belize laid to rest a rare breed—Hector McPherson Douglas Thompson. A man among men … an ordinary grassroots man who became a pioneering giant, and whom I consider worthy of maximum national respect.
His daughter, Mrs. Dawn Jones, gave a fitting eulogy—a message that the Belizean nation ought to hear … or ignore, at its peril. She referred to her dad as “a man of few words and many aspirations”. She recounted his life, his leaving home to start working at age 14, his first entry into the cabinet furniture business (along with Joe Bulwer, my dad), followed by his scholarship training in cabinetry in Puerto Rico.
Adversity is the mark of a man. What defines you is often how you respond to the hard knocks in life. What especially struck me was her account of how Mr. Thompson responded to a devastating event—the 1975 Albert Street fire—when “he lost everything.”
Truth be told: great men or nations never lose “everything” when material things are lost. Wisdom teaches you that true wealth and strength do not reside in material things. It resides in one’s character and mindset.
After that fire destroyed “everything”, Mr. Thompson reassured his daughter that she could still pursue her education. He wasn’t about to lose his dignity, or resort to dishonesty, or become beholden to a politician. Something inside told him that what he had left … was far bigger than what he lost. Something inside him told him that he could not just survive, but thrive. With resolve, Mr. T recouped, restarted his business and gradually took it to another level. He expanded beyond cabinetry, and became the biggest cement block builder in the country, a real estate player, and a man who engaged in quiet “no advertisement” philanthropy. Mr. T gave away a lot that went far beyond what money can buy. He shared with so many, including myself, a humble listening ear, wise nuggets of advice, and an exemplary life worthy of becoming a national reader. Mind you, he did not do this alone. Mrs. Ethel Thompson, his wife, was right by his side.
I often pondered why men like Mr. HD Thompson, who hailed from Mullins River (along with other men of his generation from the same village like Collet Maheia and Henry Flowers), left such large footprints on Belize. My view is that growing up in a largely self-sufficient village taught you invaluable principles, including self-reliance—lessons not easily learned in “gimme gimme” city where politicians often influence how you survive.
I became rather close to Mr. Thompson when he was already in his 60’s. We spoke often, but what he really taught me was mostly through his own life’s example. He exemplified the value of vision, focus, honest hard work, discipline, and perseverance. Mr. T, as he was affectionately called, paid no heed to the unproductive colonial legacy called “retirement at age 55”—which to me is a curse to the Belizean mindset. But that’s another topic for another time.
In Mr. T, I saw a man of means who did not squander his considerable material wealth on self-indulgences or on selfishly exploiting others for material gain. In Mr. T I observed a man of temperance and principles, a man who lived wisely. Mr. T understood that self-destructive lifestyle habits were a bad investment.
What also struck me, was that at Mr. T’s funeral, there was hardly any of Belize’s political or “society people”, or the business elite. However, this came as no surprise to me. Mr. T was not known to “play politics” or to be involved with, to use my own father’s phrase, “antics and pappysho”. Mr. T didn’t make his money through political favors, or through naked greed or dishonesty. A close friend, Mr. Albert Moody, pondered what kind of Belize we could have had if there were a thousand of the likes of Mr. T!
If there was ever a time when Belizeans needed to aspire to and emulate such a bona fide home-grown champion, who achieved material wealth through honest hard work, and not through exploitation or plunder, it is now! That’s why I personally salute Mr. T as “a man among men,” a true Belizean hero … the kind of role model that the Belizean nation should acknowledge, respect, embrace, and remember.
For Mr. T, true profit and treasure didn’t have to mean “gaining the world” while “losing your soul”. Rather, he set his eyes on a path to achieve things the right way, the honest way—a very scarce commodity in today’s Belize. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” I believe you have attained to the true treasures, those of the enduring kind where “moth and rust do not corrupt”.
Maximum respect, Sir HD Thompson! … Until we meet again on the other side.