They had planned to grow old together and do the things married couples engage in after their children have grown and have moved away. But today, that is a crushed dream for the country’s national netball coach, Lavern Fraser Thomas.
Mrs. Thomas’s husband, policeman Rawle Thomas, was shot by bandits on June 14, last year, while on duty in the mining town of Linden. He died a few days later, on Father’s Day, leaving a wife and four children.
On Thursday, Stabroek News caught up with Tho-mas’s widow at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall on Homestretch Avenue, where preparations were in train for the start of the Mash Steel Band Competition. That was also the place, where the couple enjoyed many fond memories - she coaching so many schoolgirls and he, playing basketball for the Sonics or the Police Force.
Understandably, life since the death of her husband has not been easy for her or the children. The almost daily robberies, shootings and killings bring back vivid memories of one brutal attack in Linden just seven months ago that changed their lives forever.
“Since the death of my husband, I have been a lot slower [to recover] than I would have been in different circumstances... At the moment, almost every time there is a shooting or another killing, I revisit my own situation. So it is so much harder for me, but not just me, also for the children because, every now and again, there is some focus on it [crime] and lots of times, pictures of those persons who might have been killed are aired on the television and it does affect the children,” she said.
Her hurt was evident, although she gave a brave smile here and there. Throughout the interview, Mrs. Thomas eyes unwittingly touched on the framed photograph of herself and Rawle, dressed in sweat clothes, that was on her desk.
“We have a song (How Many More) that usually plays on Clem David’s (Sunrise) programme, which, to me, is really very pertinent to our situation in the country. But then even for me, there are times when it starts to play, I have to switch the channel...Even though in some ways I have been able to deal with the fact he is dead, in some other ways, it is still...” she said without finishing.
As such, the young widow said she can empathise with the families of other policemen who were brutally cut down over the past year, as well as other victims of the crime spree. Most affected by it all is her 10-year-old daughter, Robin, but Mrs. Thomas said she uses what little experience she has to counsel her offspring.
With another major holiday on this weekend, her husband is more missed, since, according to the woman, wherever in the country he was stationed, her husband always made it home for holidays and special occasions.
“Even though Rawle was a policeman and he was stationed out of town...we were still able, lots of times, if when I am not available, to do things with the children. He would always be there to fill that gap...My children always knew whenever there was a birthday, any occasion, be it Valentine, they were certain that they were going to see him and something would have been done with the family...For the past week, my daughter has been asking, “Mommy what are you doing on Mashramani Day?” and she has been asking that question, because for the last three years, usually it is Rawle and the children. I would just prepare [the basket] and they would get dressed and he would bring them out.”
Before her husband’s death, she had someone to talk to when things affected her, whether socially, personally or at work. They also shared responsibilities, many of which now have to be taken up by her eldest son, Warren, just 17. Mrs. Thomas was, however, high in praise of President Bharrat Jagdeo, who in fulfilling one of his many promises to her, secured employment for the teenager after he successfully completed his Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams last year.
“I was given the opportunity to meet with the President and, as a result of that meeting, he made some promises in terms of assistance and, to date, those have been fulfilled. So to that end I am really grateful,” the widow said.
Touching on some of the plans for the future, Mrs. Thomas said: “He (Rawle) had promised his children that he would have resigned from the Guyana Police Force come the end of the year 2002, but we all know by now that that never became a reality. Other than that, we were looking at the house, which is a little cramped for the size of the family...that was another one of our priorities, being able to do some kind of extension, so that we can provide the children with the kind of space they would need to live comfortably. In terms of school, we were already looking at what we needed to do to ensure that they were able to enjoy the best there was to offer in the educational line.”
The Thomases eldest daughter, Shantal, is a second form student at Bishop’s High, while 10-year-old Robin is attending North Georgetown Primary. She is preparing to write the Secondary Schools Entrance Examination next year. The baby of the family, Rawle Junior, is only in Prep ‘A’. Whenever asked, he tells one and all, “My daddy is in heaven.”
“I am still hoping that, with God’s grace, I would still be able to provide and ensure that at least they are able to achieve that kind of education that they need. But we were both really looking forward for that time when they [the children] would have become grown and branch out on their own and then we would have been able to really have that time for ourselves. It might sound a little strange, but we did a lot of looking forward for that, but now...”
In terms of the crime situation which really saw an upsurge after five men broke out of the Camp Street jail on February 23, 2002, Mrs. Thomas told Stabroek News: “I am of the opinion that if each and every person who breaks the law in Guyana is dealt with the way they should be, then it will help. It will help in that the society at large will recognize that law enforcement is an important aspect of life and, I think, the respect for the law and the law enforcers would be a lot greater if every individual knew that if they broke the law, regardless of who they are or what is it they would have done, that they are likely to be punished.
“The other thing is looking at the frustration being faced by the society, too. We have so many persons in society, who have the necessary qualifications...but they are not being given that chance for one reason or the other. So people are just so frustrated of not being able to find a job. A lot of the young men, as a result of not being able to find a job, are easily persuaded to become involved in other activities through which they can obtain money and, a lot of times, these are not the right way...So I think that the government should really do something to address those two particular issues. It would go a long way in helping to stem some of the crime at the moment.”
One of the things the government had announced was a $1M benefit for the families of policemen killed. To this end, Mrs. Thomas said that with effect from last month, she has begun to receive the money.
“I am being given an amount every month...I have also been able, this same week, to access his gratuity from the Guyana Police Force, because all the things that had to be done before were completed. NIS came through a little earlier, in December 2002. But I want to say that in terms of the kind of remuneration they have in place, two things have concerned me. After running around for a while and after having to spend over $5,000 to get the necessary legal papers, the benefit [from the Dependants Pension Fund] that I am receiving is $1,420 a month. I don’t know how it is computed, but I am still saying if you have somebody who is working and every month a contribution is being made, I feel that something better should be put in place. The other thing, is at the moment, I am trying to find out whether a husband who would have achieved the 10 years as a policeman, if his beneficiaries are going to receive a pension from the Guyana Police Force...After receiving the gratuity, I have been making the enquiries, but I have not got any response as yet.[Because] separate and apart from the government deciding to give a family a million dollars, it would therefore mean that a policeman who would have died in this kind of situation, at the end of the day all he would be getting is his gratuity from the GPF and really nothing else... In my situation, it was my income and my husband’s, and since he has died, it was basically mine and it has really, really been hard. The money they are disbursing per month is just basically to deal with the monthly running of the house, but not to get other things done.”