Maria Thomson, the longtime director of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation, passed away in January.

Tucked in the back corner of the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation’s (GWDC) third-floor office on Jamaica Avenue is a large wooden desk with an empty leather rolling chair. It’s covered with paperwork, framed pictures and other knick-knacks, and its size and position in the room makes it clear that this is where the boss sits.

Ever present among the clutter is the nameplate on the desk that reads, “Maria Thomson.”

Since the longtime GWDC director and community advocate passed away in January, her desk has remained untouched. It’s symbolic of the way Thomson was always present in the neighborhood, and even though former secretary Lisa Komninos took over as the new executive director, she doesn’t plan to take Thomson’s seat.

“She didn’t just work nine to five, she worked at night and anybody could call her any time for any kind of problem,” Komninos said of her former boss. “Stepping into that role is very hard. Nobody can fill her shoes, no matter what.”

Komninos sat at her own desk on May 17, with Thomson’s a few feet behind her, and reflected on her time spent with the GWDC. She took over as the executive director in February after 18 years of serving as secretary and learning under Thomson’s leadership.

It was an easy decision when she was nominated by the board of directors, Komninos said, because she is very familiar with all the work and has a good relationship with the stores and businesses the GWDC works with.

Whether or not she will also serve as the director of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District — for which she also serves as secretary — has yet to be decided, but she is up for the task if given the opportunity, she said.

She doesn’t plan to change anything about how the organization operates because of the precedent that Thomson set, but Komninos hopes to bring some new ideas to the table. For example, the Woodhaven Street Fair that Thomson founded will go on as usual this summer, and Komninos is looking into inviting new vendors, new bands and other entertainment that has never been there before.

The greatest lesson Komninos learned from the local legend was that she too can put in the extra effort and work in her off time to make sure the community knows the organization is still going strong, she said.

Komninos plans on joining Community Board 9 (Thomson was a longtime member of the advisory body), attending other civic meetings in the neighborhood and admitted there is one skill that she is going to have to work on.

“I don’t do speeches,” Komninos said. “That’s what Maria did, and I have to get used to that. Going to meetings and things like that, I’ve gone to them but I’m always in the background. I would just be taking the notes, but now I actually have to do some public speaking.”

Komninos also looks forward to continuing other GWDC traditions such as the Memorial Day Observance on May 24 and the yearly dinner dance that Thomson always held to honor local business people.

This year the dance will take place on June 1, and after Komninos discussed it with the other GWDC employees, they decided that Thomson would be posthumously honored — and the lone honoree of the evening.

“Maria was always about fun,” Komninos said. “I know she wouldn’t want it to be a sad event, but we still want to do a tribute to her.”


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