Alex Thomas Jr. is a lifelong resident of Hyde Park, and a local business owner of the Carroll-Thomas Funeral Home. It wasn’t until we connected for this interview that I realized we are practically neighbors! We sat down at Coffee Break Cafe earlier this year to discuss his commitment to the community.
Interview by Quiana Agbai
Tell me about yourself and how you’re involved with keeping Hyde Park beautiful?:
I was born in Hyde Park in 1952, on Beacon Street - the big old stone house that looks like a castle. I went to school here growing up in Hyde Park, and my dad owned a funeral home next to my school - that was difficult! I got into landscaping with my grandfather, an Irish immigrant. I used to go out with him after school, cut grass, plant gardens and do all kinds of things. One of my favorite [memories] was a house in Milton where we were cutting grass and a weeping willow tree had a branch come down. My grandfather took it into the garage, peeled the bark off the bottom, put it in a vase of water, wrapped it up with toilet paper and said, “Bring this home and in a couple weeks you’re going to see white roots, and we’re going to plant it somewhere.” At the time my dad was running the funeral home on Oak Street and [the weeping willow] is there today. I was able to get two trees out of that: one at Most Precious Blood Church and one up at my son’s house in Canton.
I take pride in Hyde Park. I live here now, and I bought the house next to the funeral home. Every morning the first thing I do is look out my window up Maple Street all the way to Las Vegas Seafood, and I go, “Aw man! This was spotless yesterday!” I love just walking down the street and picking up everybody’s trash. If I see kids walking up the hill and all of a sudden I see them doing something and [litter] goes down to the ground, I’ll walk over and nicely say, “You want to pick that up please.” I love keeping things beautiful; I love flowers, I love trees, I love nature. I really do!
Speaking of youth, how have you inspired them to help keep Hyde Park Beautiful?:
I’ve had numerous kids in our neighborhood help over the years. I put a lot of time, effort and money into the flowers especially over at the Church [Most Precious Blood]. I can’t water them unless I do it by hand, which I can’t do all the time. I used to see [kids] walking by, and I used to ask, “When you get out of school, do you want a summer job?,” and I’d talk to their parents to make sure they knew who I was. I had probably 4 different kids over the years do that. One boy helped for 4 years - watering the flowers, doing great - I had him plant a little garden, and I became a mentor to him. Now he’s married with 4 kids!
Historically, what have you noticed with clean up efforts over the years?
I love the little gardens put around in the different squares! Back when I was a kid I never really thought of it. Graffiti bothers me, and I don’t have tolerance for litter - I’ve filled up a barrel full of trash at times. I still have t-shirts from Mayor Menino’s Boston Clean-Up with the broom on it, I think from 2002.
What would you say to your fellow Hyde Park residents to encourage them to get started helping to keep Hyde Park beautiful?
If everybody just concentrated on their little block - not just their house - and thought of their neighbors. Even things like cleaning off your neighbor’s car when it snows or helping the elderly people; just walk around and pick stuff up! I love it when I see somebody pick something up. It’s amazing how many times you see that! We can do some amazing things here. I love taking a left and going up my street and seeing that there’s not even a straw or a q-tip or cigarette butt. It’s so nice! I love having my sidewalks clean, and I love when I see people out in their yards.
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Quiana first came to Boston as a college student, graduating from Wellesley College in 2002 and returned in 2016 to live in Hyde Park with her husband and two children.