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On Island Profile: Paul Thomas

On Island is a regular Source feature. These profiles will be kept permanently in our "People" section.
Sept. 22, 2005 – Paul Thomas, who heads the V.I. National Park Service's Interpretive Division, has spent a good part of his career at the park.
Yes, there was a foray into the local government as manager of the Planning and Natural Resources' Coastal Zone Management program. This was a four-year stint in the Gov. Roy L. Schneider administration, the result of a program that allows federal employees to accept temporary jobs for the local government.
And Thomas spent eight years in Maryland working as a park ranger at the George Washington Memorial Parkway National Park while getting his bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in biology at the University of Maryland.
While in Maryland, then park Superintendent Noel Pachta recruited him to come home.
Thomas, 53, like many St. Johnians, was born on St. Thomas to St. John parents because the island has no hospital.
After an elementary school education at Julius E. Sprauve School, he want off to Charlotte Amalie High School on St. Thomas, graduating in 1970.
When a friend told him about a lifeguard job at the park, he signed on soon after he graduated.
"The following year I became a ranger," he said
He then spent three months at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Washington, D.C. to get commissioned as an enforcement officer.
Thomas said that after four years at that job, he decided he needed more education and headed to Maryland.
He said that although the park took up a large chunk of St. John real estate, his only exposure to the park as a Julius E. Sprauve student was when the late Doris Jadan, who headed the environmental studies program, took the students to the park's visitor center.
That has changed, with park officials reaching out to schools to introduce the park to students.
Thomas said he was mentored by some people whose names are remembered fondly in park history – Jim Riddell and the late Nobel Samuel.
"They influenced me and helped me look at the park as a career," he said.
He in turn, is mentoring other youthful park rangers on their way up the career ladder.
While many people recognize Thomas by his park uniform, others know him as Cool Sessions' guitar player. He and the band often play at various places around St. John and St. Thomas, a job that's getting busier as time passes.
"It's my hobby, but because of the frequency with which we play, it's trying to become a part-time job," he said, laughing.
When he's not on the job at the park or playing with Cool Sessions, he's busy building his house and doing family activities with his wife of 22 years, Patsy, and daughter, Chela, 20. He also serves on the Nazareth Lutheran Church Council and as a Virgin Islands representative for the Lutheran Synod.
He does have time, however, to talk about the rapid change that threatens to overwhelm St. John. He's glad about the improved economic opportunity, but said that with the growth came high prices and social ills.
"It's bittersweet," he said.
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