By Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Photo: Telegraph-Journal Archives
Ralph Thomas, the program co-ordinator of the New Brunswick Black History Society and the president of PRUDE Inc., received the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers on Canada Day.
He's excited and honoured to receive what he says feels like a thank you from Canada.
"I always thought that's what you normally do," he said. "You help where you can and do it until you can't do it anymore. To have somebody say thank you very much ... it's indeed an honour."
Thomas was among one of 123 Canadians honoured by Governor General Julie Payette. His medal is one of four honours: Star of Courage, the Decoration for Bravery, Meritorious Service Decoration (Civil Division) and Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers.
The Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers "pays tribute to the dedication and exemplary commitment of volunteers" according to the press release.
Thomas was born in Saint John and moved to the rural community of Willow Grove where he grew up during the 1940s and 1950s. Later, he became a professional boxer, and was inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame.
When Saint John multicultural and diversity organization PRUDE Inc. was founded, he was among the first members. He founded the New Brunswick Black History Society with David Peters in 2010.
James Talbot, the current president of the New Brunswick Black History Society, said Thomas's work has made people aware of racism and inequality in the province.
"He's a remarkable individual. No question about it."
Inducted into the New Brunswick Sports Hall of Fame in 2000, states Thomas "has been referred to as the godfather of amateur boxing in New Brunswick." He not only was a boxer, but he started the Golden Gloves Amateur Boxing Club in Saint John and is credited with creating the New Brunswick Amateur Boxing Association along with Saint John's Stan Baird and the then-president of the Canadian Amateur Boxing Association, Jerry Shears.
"Thomas spent the better part of 33 years promoting and developing the sport at the amateur level, both in Saint John and throughout the province," the press release stated.
Thomas said he created the club so kids could have a place to go to keep them out of trouble and find an outlet through boxing.
Thomas now dedicates his energy to advocating for a Black heritage building in New Brunswick where the artifacts and history he's collected over the years can find a home.
Bill Hicks, CEO of the New Brunswick Museum and also a board member of the New Brunswick Black History Society, said Thomas has taught him a lot about Black history and its contribution to New Brunswick and Canada.
"He is a gentle, knowledgeable, forceful soul."
Peter Little, a Quispamsis historian who volunteers for the New Brunswick Black History Society, said Thomas, even as an 82-year-old man, has more energy than he does. He said Thomas is a selfless person and his work through PRUDE Inc. and the New Brunswick Black History Society is for all people in Saint John, not just the Black community.
"He never stops. He never stops doing good."