Despina Thomas remembers with painful clarity the day in 2005 when she received the devastating news that her son, Antonios Thomas, had leukemia.
She cried. But she remembers that Tony did not.
“‘Mom, don’t be upset,’” she recalls him saying. “‘We’ll just take the medicine.’ He treated it like an infection. He was not afraid, and he was giving us strength.”
The medicine, chemotherapy, was brutal, and Despina and her husband, Sotirios “Steve” Thomas, wished they could trade places with their son.
Months later, they received the news that Tony was in remission. They were elated. But, with the good news came a doctor’s order that rocked Tony. After months of preparation studying about Italy, Roman history and Latin in preparation for a Middle School trip to Italy led by charismatic Latin teacher Jim “Fio” Fiorile, Tony was forbidden to risk international travel.
“This time he cried. He sobbed, ‘Mommy, no!’”
Tony continued to participate in Middle School life, earning more love than ever from his
teachers and classmates, and he continued to receive treatment for leukemia. However, the treatment was unsuccessful, and he died in 2006.
Despina and Steve have been on campus since then; in 2010 they dedicated a Steinway piano—a pianist, Tony always wanted a Steinway—in their son’s honor at a pro bono concert by international superstar Emanuel Ax. And they attended Commencement for the Class of 2010, Tony’s class, and accepted his diploma posthumously from Head of School Darryl J. Ford.
This summer Tony’s parents have endowed a fund to pay a portion of the cost of a new seventh grade trip, a transformative travel experience designed to broaden their worldview. The first class will depart in spring 2020 for a nine-day trip to the southwestern United States.
“You see,” explains his mother, “Tony loved to travel. When Jack [Chief Development Officer Jack Rogers] offered the idea, the first thing I saw was Tony’s face and his excitement every time we took a trip. Travel for him wasn’t only about sunshine and beautiful scenes. He loved learning about other countries and cultures and histories. He loved eating the food, and most of all he loved to mingle with people. He could see people.”
Despina has seen “what travel means and what it can do to your soul and development. I want the kids to experience all the joy and all the happiness and all the learning of travel.”
In the case of the Thomases, supporting the seventh grade trip has singular meaning.
“You want your child’s wish to come true,” said his mother, “and for me it will feel like Tony went.”