Rudolph “Pimpy” Thomas was a St. John fixture, musician, sportsman, businessman, family man and policeman at various times in his life. For all the people he touched and lives he enriched, the Legislature passed a resolution at the end of 2020 renaming Cruz Bay’s South Side Road in his honor.
Before his death in 2016, Rudolph “Pimpy” Thomas was a fixture under the shed at Pimpy’s H20 Delivery Service. Clad in blue coveralls, with a gray goatee and an easy smile, Pimpy could be found lounging near his small fleet of trucks, listening to a portable radio.
Family and friends say that’s where the St. John water hauling business began. It was one aspect of a life that began in 1940 when Thomas was born ninth of 13 children.
Along the way, Thomas found ways to bring brothers, children and his wife, Joan, along for the ride.
“[Pimpy] was a good calypsonian, a good musician, good in sports. He was the first person with the water delivery service, which he sold for $1 a barrel. Then all the water delivery trucks came from there,” longtime acquaintance Benedict C.E. Regis, past president of the St. John Lion’s Club, said after Thomas’ passing.
Regis credited Thomas for having a hand in the island’s development, starting from his early 20s when he worked on the crew digging Centerline Road. Two years later, he shifted his efforts into the military and later law enforcement. Daughter Beverly said by then it was 1960, and she and three siblings had made their way into the world.
Crime Prevention Bureau Director Kenneth Blake recalled Thomas from the days when they both served as young police officers in Cruz Bay, at St. John’s only police station. “I was a police officer then. He was up there with Capt. Leander Jurgens and those guys. He was a good police officer, very friendly,” Blake said.
Throughout that time, Thomas and brothers Roy Smith, Albert Smith, Aubrey Thomas, Randolph Thomas and Alphosne Powell set out on a musical journey as a band, the Jealous Sounds. “They played in Caneel Bay and at Fred’s in Coral Bay,” Beverly said. “He played the cowbell and sang and played the congas.” In those days, a Coral Bay businessman named Fred Smith ran a rum shop which was temporarily a club called the Kite and later became Skinny Legs. The Jealous Sounds also played a club called the Upper Deck, in the Bethany area near Power Boyd.
Blake, a longtime host of the radio show, “Calypso Past and Present,” recalled Thomas as more of a singer than a calypsonian. “Not that he was a calypsonian to write his own songs. He’d take other people’s songs and sing them. He’d sing a [Mighty] Sparrow or a Shadow song. He was not a great singer, but he was good,” Blake said.
But one of Beverly’s most enduring memories was about Thomas’ H20, which she said she was in on from the beginning. “He used to drive a blue jeep called the Blue Angel. It had a 55-gallon barrel,” she said. From that barrel, Thomas and his daughter brought water to homes around the island, as far as the east end and Lameshur Bay where paved roads had not reached. “It was a beating,” she said.
Along the delivery route there was also time for a father to teach lessons about independence and self-determination. Out there, Beverly said, she learned how to change flat tires, lift the hood and diagnose problems. There were also lessons in neighborliness. Another of Thomas’ daughters, Brenda Olauge, said she remembered her father’s admonishments to treat people fairly and kindly. “That sounds about right,” she said.
As the business grew, Beverly and her mother Joan also learned to drive the water trucks. Joan did some of the road work while, at the same time, working as an administrator at the Cruz Bay police station and completing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of the Virgin Islands.
With that achievement done, Joan turned more of her attention toward the business end of the water service. Thomas found time to play softball with the St. John Ambassadors of the 40+ League. As his playing days came to an end, Thomas donned the uniform of a softball umpire and stood behind home plate.
The Rudolph “Pimpy” Thomas Jr. Road extends from the basketball court to the top of Gina Hill, also known as Jacob’s Ladder.