Life without David
Mara Thompson was married to David Thompson for 29 years, and was the Prime Minister’s wife for just over two years, when a year ago she found herself widowed, her husband finally succumbing to pancreatic cancer, which he had bravely battled, with her constantly at his side.
Today marks the first anniversary of Thompson’s passing, an event that devastated the nation and has left a deep void in the Mapps, St Philip household which the former charismatic leader once headed.
In this week’s Big Interview, Mara reflects on her life with David Thompson and discusses her personal and public life without him with NATION Senior Reporter Gercine Carter.
What has the past year been like without David?
Mara: I guess it is a little lonely because we were together a lot, so now it is me on my own. I have been going non-stop. Maybe it’s intentional because I don’t want to stop and sit down and think about his absence.
So I keep doing all the many things that I have to do, and also with the “new” job – new as in being the MP for St John now. I have a lot to do, so I have been going, going, going, and that’s what it’s like . . . . I miss him.
There can be no doubt about the deep void his passing must have left in your home and your life. How has it impacted your role as mother?
Mara: It is impacting in that the family has changed, that’s for sure. The girls [the Thompsons’ three daughters Misha, Oya and Osa-Marie], at least the two older ones, have been forced to grow up quickly in the year, and they tend to more or less take care of themselves.
I have allowed them to do that because I suppose I need them to do that.
So you know the family unit as it was is now different, with my being their only father, as well as fulfilling my role [as mother], because I am now not there as much as I used to be.
All three of us are now trying to raise Osa [the youngest of the children]. In a way we are separated more than we used to be, but we are looking out for each other. It isn’t all just left up to mummy now.
This brings me on to what may be considered another major change in your life. One day you were Mara Thompson, the Prime Minister’s wife. The next you were just another private citizen. What was that transition like and how have you coped with it over the last year?
Mara: I did not see it as any big change. I think that the seven months of David’s illness gave me ample preparation. I think I had enough time to prepare.
While battling the illness and hoping for the best, I could still see his deterioration as time went by.
So in a way I think that prepared me; so I knew what was going to happen. The Prime Minister’s wife’s part was never really my first love. Let’s face it.
It is what came with the marriage, so I did not mind going back to Mapps [their St Philip home], that’s for sure. I never really wanted to go to live in Ilaro Court, but I realized that it was easier for him and better for him; so we went there.
So going back home was fine with me. Not being the Prime Minister’s wife any more, it really does not bother me. I am not big on the publicity thing.
You told me David’s political shoes were not easy to fill. How have you been managing, having landed in them?
Mara: Well, I am working hard, that’s for sure. I don’t think I was ever of the view that I could ever fill his shoes, and so I don’t feel guilty in any way about not doing so. My attitude is that I will try my best.
I am doing it really for the people of St John, since they asked me to, and for him, since he asked me to. I will just do it to the best of my ability. If I don’t succeed, then it is for them to decide what they are going to do about it.
I believe your constituents in St John may already be moving past the new girl on the block stage of your representation since your election in January 2011. What demands are they making of you at this time?
Mara: I guess all the demands they make of politicians. They want jobs, they want roads fixed, light poles put up, and all the myriad other things that they want of any other politician.
Have you noticed any difference in the reception of constituents to Mara, the parliamentary representive for St John, from when you were out and about in the constituency as Mara, the Prime Minister’s wife?
Mara: Oh yes, definitely. It is completely different, because when I did it for him, the constituents made no demands on me. As far as they were concerned they were happy to see “the mistress”. When they needed something they would go directly to him, or they would tell me to tell him; so it was not any presure on me.
But now they are asking me directly, and I think his capacity to deliver was greater than mine. So it is harder on me in that I cannot deliver as easily as he could.
Did you ever envisage yourself in the role of politician?
Mara: No, not at all. It was never my plan, it was never my dream, but I recognized that circumstances have me where I am now; so I go with it.
Are you planning to stay the political course? For example, do you see yourself continuing as the representative for St John long-term if this is what your constituents want?
Mara: I figure so, as long as they want me. But I really don’t know how long I will last . . . . Will I grow more into it, or will I become fed up and run away from it? I really don’t know, so I have just left it up to the Lord.
What did you learn from being in the trenches with David that you are now applying to your own experience without his being around to guide you?
Mara: Well, everything. I learnt that one should serve once you had the ability to do it. I learnt about interacting with people; I learnt about tolerance, a lot more tolerance than I had before; about helping people and seeing the other side of things.
I learnt how to organize activities and whatever would work for the better of the community in getting people involved.
Did you have a chance to discuss this role with David?
Mara: No, because when he asked to do it, I told him I was not going to; so we did not really discuss what would happen after I became an MP.
Share with me some of your fondest and most enduring memories of your husband.
Mara: Oh, there are many. He was a very funny person. He always cracked a joke and even when he wanted to get across a point to me, he would come up with something that would make me laugh.
For example, I moved the furniture in the living room one day; I just thought I would change up things a bit. So he came home from work and he looked, and he obviously did not like it too much.
So he heads up the corridor and I hear him going up [saying]: “Mr Speaker, Sir, do you think it is right that a man should not be a king in his castle?” In other words, I should have asked permission before I moved this furniture. So I went up the corridor after him and asked him what was wrong with my arrangement.
I remember our lying on the bed at Ilaro Court and we were trying to look at TV. We were discussing the fact that we both now wear bifocals and when you are lying on the bed you can’t look through the bifocals and watch TV.
So he suggested that we should get an old pair of frames of our glasses and get the distance lens put in alone. So I went ahead and had mine done. He said he would do his, and many weeks went by, and I had my distance glasses and was looking at TV and he didn’t.
Then about two or three weeks later he comes home, he changes his glasses and lies down on the bed upside down and looks, and then gets up and looks, and then gets up and lies sideways and looks again. In other words, he was showing me he could see the TV from any direction . . . .
David was always doing “foolishness”, and always cracking a joke.
What do you miss most about him?
Mara: Everything. The jokes, the security, taking care of everybody – he did that. I did not go anywhere to pay a bill, I did not even have to look to see if I had the money to pay the bill.
He cooked for us. I hate cooking; so he did a lot of the cooking. He did not cook during the week, because he was too busy; he did not have the time. But he cooked every Sunday, and he cooked well.
He always had all the ideas about what we should do for entertainment or for holidays, and he would do all of it.
I would just dress and come out and greet all the guests.
I used to tell him: “You need to stop that; you have enough to do. It is quite obvious I can handle all of those things.” But those were the things he liked, and so he just went ahead and did them. He wore the trousers in the house. That’s for sure.
He extended his love of family to the Families First project which he introduced and to which he was fervently committed and in which I believe you had some input. What is the future of that programme and what has been your role in it since his passing?
Mara: Oh, Families First is very much alive. Right now the David Thompson Memorial Night Cricket is going on. Families First is running it. It is important to me to carry on that programme because I think it began to accomplish a lot in that it focused on all these activities that were designed to promote family life – bringing families out together, doing things together, whether it was nuclear family, extended family or single parent family.
That is important to me. I feel strongly that the family is an important unit.
In fact, it was my intention to continue Families First when he was sick, moreso than run.
I know it must still be hard for you to talk about it, but could you share with me your feelings during the last days with David, especially when you realized there was no hope of his recovery?
Mara: [Pause] . . . Well, it was hard . . . . I don’t know, it was just sad. I cried quite a bit. But he was very positive and believed he was going to make it.
Even the week before [he died] I found he was very quiet, and I told him: “I sense that you have given up.”
He actually straightened up his back, because he was pretty bent by then – he was so emaciated that his eyes were really huge.
He opened them up wide and he said: “No, I have not!” And I saw that there was some strength there.
Even the evening that he died, he told me he wanted a cup of tea. So I went to the kitchen to get it. When I came back he was on the bed. Richard [Thompson’s personal physician, cardiologist Dr Ishmael] was there and it seems that Richard had put him on the bed, because he had been sitting on the chair when he asked me for the tea.
When I got back he was just sitting there making what I call his final speech, because he was just babbling, really. You could hear some words in between. I definitely heard “the team” and a lot of “God bless” and “thank you very much”.
He would just babble like that for an hour. And I came and said: “Here is the tea.” But he did not respond; he just continued talking. So I don’t know if he decided to send me out of the room, that’s why he asked me for the tea.
What then would have been his last words to you?
Mara: That he wants a cup of tea.