New London’s Tommie Major retires as Parks and Rec director
New London ― There are two things you can always hear Tommie Major say: “This is not Waterford county, not Ledyard county, this is New London County,” and “I don’t care where you go, you’ll find someone that knows of New London.”
Major, the All-American football player turned coach turned public official, is a true “Whaler.” He retired Jan. 17 as director of the city’s Parks and Recreation department after almost 34 years.
Major grew up in New London, played on the high school’s football and baseball teams, and went on to play for a historically black college in Maryland. He came back to New London and is known for a number of roles he played in the community.
He coached football at the high school for 38 years, was a youth coordinator at the YMCA before it closed, delivered newspapers and more. He had no weekends off.
Now at 70, Major said he looks at life not as what one does in the beginning but what one does at the end. He said he felt as though he was not contributing as much to the city as in the past and one day decided it was time to move on.
Those that know Major say that he always feels as though he does not do enough because he always wants to do more for children in the city.
“People don’t understand how gifted the youth in New London are,” he said.
As director of the Parks and Recreation department, Major played a role in developing affordable programs for kids and teens in the city, providing them with opportunities for “recreation, leisure and education.“ The programs have included games, swimming, sailing, studying sessions, movie nights and so on.
Major said he sees himself in the more troubled kids because that used to be him. With a father in the Navy and a strong mother, Major said he was a hell-raiser and football and baseball were his outlet, a means of relieving his frustrations. And he said he tried to be an outlet for children in the city even if it was just them coming to watch others play.
“I needed those students more than they needed me,” he said.
Major has fond memories of programs like Don’t Foul Out, where students that were 16-18 years would come for a weekend and have a basketball tournament. He said the whole community would get together, Foxwoods Resort Casino would donate food and there’d be guest speakers.
Major said the department faced the challenge of having consistent funding for such programs. He said it was tough dealing with one or two-year grants. Major said he felt frustrated that in the last five years the department could only organize basketball games for younger individuals and leagues but not the older children.
Another challenge was a lack of facilities for programs. The construction of the community center is a great thing that will be provided in the future, said Major, but he hopes students will continue to use school facilities as well.
Major said his biggest contribution as director was that he hired the right people who care about the community and liked to do joint efforts with other organizations. Working alongside him was Program Coordinator Sharon Bousquet and Coordinator of Youth Services Ellen Kleckner.
He said they are hardworking individuals who have devoted years of their life to the city and is proud of both of them.
In 2013, the city department received a national accreditation in Parks and Recreation and it is the first agency in Connecticut and one of three in New England to have it.
Major said the main person in his life and guidance was his wife Barbara, who has passed away. In their younger years, they had a full house with six children.
His daughter Melissa Ford said other children were also apart of the household when they needed a temporary place to stay. She said they were taught to be welcoming and she wouldn’t want it any other way.
Ford said she is proud of her father and understands he wants more for the community than at this point he’s able to provide.
Juan Roman met Major as his football coach “screaming and hollering” when he was 14 and didn’t know a thing about football. Roman would later on coach the high school football team with Major as assistant coach.
“Pure love for New London, that’s who Tommie Major is,” Roman said. “If you had a child, an athlete especially, you know who he is.”
Roman could share endless stories about the time he’s spent with Major, who is like family to him. One of Roman’s sons is named Major after Tommie.
Ford recalls being picked up from school by her father and they would go look for Roman, who had graduated high school, so Major could go ask Roman why he wasn’t in college yet. Ford said he did that every day for a year and a half until Roman eventually went.
“He passionately cares,” she said. “He’s not looking to get anything for what he gives”
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