By K. Levek
Leaders in Washington, D.C. are often referenced by their political activity across the city. Such was the case for the late Harry Thomas, Sr., who served as the Ward 5 Councilmember for three terms and died in 2001. He left behind two adult children and grandchildren along with his life partner -a woman in her own right- his wife, Romaine Bass Thomas.
Romaine is a native Washingtonian and native Ward 5 resident, where she currently resides. She attended Brown Jr. High School and Cardozo High School. In high school she made the decision that she wanted to teach and after school went on to attend the Miner’s Teachers College. She received her Master’s from George Washington University and continued her graduate studies at Howard University and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN.
She taught elementary school for 13 years before she was selected to serve as a supervising instructor at the Demonstration School, where she trained upcoming teachers on the art of teaching. While at the Demonstration School she was recognized for her efforts and was sent to be an assistant principal at John Henry Ketchum Elementary School in the southeast neighborhood of Anacostia.
In 1971 she became the principal at Ketchum and was one of two African American principals from 46 states to receive the National Distinguished Principal Award, which honored outstanding elementary and middle school administrators.
As the principal of Ketchum Thomas understood her influence in the shaping of the young minds of the school. She recalls the changes the school went through when she first arrived. “Although the school was predominantly white when I arrived, the ‘white flight’ was taking place and black were swiftly moving in,” she said.
As the school began to change she wanted the school’s culture to reflect the neighborhood’s population and culture. Within minutes from the school is the former home-turned historic site, of famed abolitionist leader, former slave and prominent orator Frederick Douglass. Thomas made sure that each year the Black History Month celebrations included significant history about Douglass along with other notable African American achievements. His history and legacy became a big part of the school because of how close the school was to his home.
“I wanted to give children access to a black leader and the concept of black history,” she said. Thomas went on to extend the Black History Month focus throughout the year and focused on educating the students about the many details of Frederick Douglass’ life through school activities and targeted programming.
Through her husband’s federal connections, who worked at the U. S. Department of the Interior, she was able to get the school inside of his home, formerly called Cedar Hill, so students were able to get an intimate feeling about Douglass.
Under Thomas’s 25 years as the principal of Ketchum, the school received recognition for several local, regional and city-wide activities and competitions and Thomas initiated moving the school’s annual sixth grade promotion exercise to the historic Frederick Douglass Home at Cedar Hill. This partnership was achieved through the National Park Service and her late husband, Harry Thomas, Sr. She was also awarded the National Distinguished Principal’s Award, which was presented by then U.S. Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell for her service at the school.
The September 11th (9/11) attacks on the country brought about a new era for Thomas. She had one student and teacher that were killed in the attacks when their plane crashed into the Pentagon. “That event affected me deeply,” she said. She said the gravity of the event helped her move on her already-planned retirement. She retired at the end of that school year with 25 years of service as principal at Ketchum.
After her retirement she didn’t stop working. A member of several community organizations, she became more active. One of those organizations was the DC chapter of AARP, where she was nominated and became the chapter president. Committed to serving, she also worked diligently in her church, Michigan Park Christian Church, where she is still very active as an elder.
In 2009 Thomas was awarded Washington, DC Mother of the Year by the American Mother’s Inc. (AMI), an interfaith, non-profit organization that caters to women and men who identify with the purpose of strengthening the moral and spiritual foundations of the family and home.
No stranger to politics, Thomas also held a few political roles within civic organizations and some that were able to give her a bit of national recognition. She is the former president of the Woodridge Civic Association and was 2nd VP of DC Federation of Civic Associations, Inc. She also became the 1st DC Democratic Convention Chairwoman and serving as a 2012 Delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.
Through the experience of her late husband’s political involvement and working with the local DC Democratic State Committee, its no surprise that she considered an elected seat in the District. In 1992 she ran for an At-Large School Board position. And her husband’s legacy on the council was continued after his death when his son Harry Thomas, Jr. was elected in 2006 to represent his native Ward 5 community. He served six years on the council.
Regardless of the political and educational facets that her life has played she says she is most proud to have served her Ward 5 community and will continue to leave a legacy for her two children Debra and Harry Jr. and her grandchildren.