“Sonya was a woman of vision,” said Stella Saunders, Waste Management Authority spokesman.
Saunders acknowledged that Nelthropp had been ill for some time.
According to information provided by Nelthropp’s family, she was born in New York, moving to St. Thomas with her parents, Earle Bromley Nelthropp and Ruby Deoneicia Tyson Nelthropp, when she was three.
Sonya Nelthropp attended All Saints School, Antilles School and finished high school at Oakwood Friends School in New York. She spent summers on St. Croix with family and lived on St. John during school vacations because her father served as administrator there.
After graduating from high school, Nelthropp attended the College of the Virgin Islands, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. She taught science for five years at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School.
In 1977, Nelthropp left St. Thomas to pursue educational opportunities, becoming a U.S. Coast Guard licensed marine engineer and a certified welder.
She visited South America, Europe, North Africa, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka and the east coast of the United States.
After graduating from Harvard University with a master’s degree, she worked as a project engineer in the Wastewater Division of the newly created Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, an agency formed to handle water and wastewater and pollution issues for the state of Massachusetts.
In 1999, she returned to St. Thomas to work as technical assistant to the Public Works commissioner, where she dealt with the long-standing issues of waste water and solid waste management and helped create the Waste Management Authority.
“She set forth something the community needed,” Saunders said.
Nelthropp served as the agency’s interim executive director before May Adams Cornwall took over as director.
WMA Director May Adams Cornwall said, “Sonya was the pioneer and champion of the Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority. Her tireless efforts gave birth to this agency and her continued support kept her dream alive. She will truly be missed but never forgotten throughout the halls of the VIWMA, where her giant spirit will continue to move us forward to the prize.”
Gov. John deJongh Jr. said he was saddened to hear of Nelthropp’s death and extended his condolences to her family on behalf of the community.
“Sonya was an exemplary public official, committed to her home and utilizing her talents to serve her community. I will miss her presence at meetings, her jovial nature and her positive spirit. I join many in the Virgin Islands who today mourn her passing. She will be sorely missed,” deJongh said.
Sen. Louis P. Hill said one of Nelthropp’s first steps upon her return to the territory was to negotiate the forgiveness of more than $26 million dollars in environmental fines which were hanging over the territory, a very significant accomplishment.
“With the passing of Sonya Nelthropp, the Virgin Islands has lost a dedicated professional, and my staff and I have lost a dear friend, whose heart and soul was committed to improving the lives of her family and friends,” Hill said.
Hill called Nelthropp a true and strong Caribbean woman, full of great humor and life, wonderfully elegant and educated, seriously principled and joyous.
“She touched our lives. Sonya will long be remembered and sorely missed,” Hill said.
In her spare time, she enjoyed the company of her dogs, Max and Lil Bit, swimming at Smith Bay, listening to music and dancing.
Surviving relatives include her sisters, Claudia Nelthropp Keller and Pat Nelthropp Beard; brother, Earle Nelthropp; and cousins in the Nelthropp families of St. Thomas and St. Croix, the O’Reilly family of St. Croix, and the Tyson families of Florida and Wales.
Saunders said memorial arrangements are pending.