Viola Dawe Thomas of Montclair died on Feb. 21, 2019.
Mrs. Thomas is the daughter of John and Princess Dawe, was born a month after her mother arrived in America by way of Ellis Island from Panama and earlier Barbados. Born in Montclair, Mrs. Thomas went to Glenfield Elementary School. She then attended the newly built Glenfield Junior High where her favorite subjects were History and Latin.
The Montclair Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution awarded her their special medal for Excellence in American History. Mrs. Thomas graduated from Montclair High School in 1940 as the only black woman in the top 10 percent of her class of 420 students.
While still at Montclair High, George Tate, finance chair at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church chose her to record the offerings of all St. Marks members, to be displayed in the vestibule weekly. She was also involved with Sunday school, Junior Choir, Missionary Group and the Epworth League.
After high school, she followed her passion for dressmaking and tailoring at the Essex County Vocational and Technical High School, graduating in 1942. In 1937, a St. Mark’s member introduced her to William H. Thomas, and they married on Feb. 18, 1942.
Mrs. Thomas worked at Mountainside Hospital as head seamstress, retiring after 23 years of employment.
A long-time member of St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, she had been the church’s financial secretary and chairperson and a finance committee member for over 55 years. She also served as a trustee, Stewardship Committee chairperson, chairperson of the Council on Ministries, secretary of the administrative board, coordinator of the Scholarship Committee luncheons (for 16 years) and member of the Anniversary and Strategic Planning Committees. She was also a member of the United Methodist Women of St. Mark’s and Club Poinsettia. She made over 70 costumes for St. Mark’s productions of “The Crucifixion,” produced by the late Byerte Johnson.
In 1988, Mrs. Thomas was asked by the late Rev. Ernest Light to start an organization to help provide people with funds to purchase a home. Thus, HomeCorp was born: Homes of Montclair Ecumenical Corporation. She served on their Property Management committee for over a decade, succeeding in housing over 350 families since HomeCorp’s founding.
Mrs. Thomas is survived by her four children, Sue Julia of Whiting; William Henry Jr. and Cynthia Grant of Pueblo, Colo.; Linda Princess and Steve Ponton of Montclair; and John Henry and Dennis Coffey of Longmeadow, Mass.; seven grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces, nephews, cousins, great-nieces and nephews and great great-nieces and nephews, plus many friends.
A wake will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 2 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, 51 Elm St., Montclair. A funeral service will follow at 11 a.m. at the same location. Internment will be at Rosedale Cemetery following the service.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to HomeCorp via the website homecorp.org or at HomeCorp, 17 Talbot St., Montclair, NJ 07042.