Ontario’s 1st Black Deputy Minister Tom Sosa dies at 84 in Orillia

Thomas Gregorio Sosa was a true factotum…..RIP

by Lennox Borel

(Form left) Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Thomas Sosa

Affectionately known as Tom by family and friends, he was an icon in the Black and wider communities in Canada. Tom had a stellar career in public and academic service.  His passion for education led him to earn degrees and diplomas in a variety of fields at the University of Winnipeg, the University of Toronto, Harvard University, the University of Michigan and the University of Windsor.  Indeed he was a student prince.

In public service, Tom was a trailblazer being the first Black person to hold these roles.  He was the Vice-President of Ryerson University for twelve years.  Then he became the first Black person to be appointed to the highest civil service rank, Deputy Minister, in the Province of Ontario.

Tom was the recipient of many honours.  In 1983 he was awarded the Chaconia Gold Medal, the second highest state honour in Trinidad and Tobago.  In 2009 he received the Consul General Diaspora Award of Trinidad and Tobago recognizing his contributions to community and academia.  He was the recipient of the Leadership Excellence Award for the Headstart Project at the University of Texas and Centennial College in Toronto, an initiative to help “at risk” youth to be successful. 

In Toronto he received the African Canadian Achievement Award for education and community service and the Islander Publications Award for outstanding contributions to Toronto’s Black community.  He was also the recipient of the Province of Ontario Award for superior leadership in the Black community. In the community he was fully involved with the Afropan Steel band,

Tom Sosa

the YMCA Black Achievement Program, the West Rouge Community Association, the West Indies United Soccer Club, the Boy Scouts of Canada and the Ontario Soccer Referees Association.  Tom’s life was one of service and dedication to family and community.  He was indeed a veritable factotum.

Perhaps Tom’s greatest achievement was his dedication to family.  Tom was completely devoted to his wife of sixty years, Betty.  He cherished his role as a father to Tom Jr. and Cynthia, as a grandfather to Thomas III, Amber, Jordan and Gabe, and a brother to many.

On a personal note, Tom has been my lifelong friend since our days as students at the prestigious St. Mary’s College in Trinidad and Tobago where he acquitted himself very well in academics and athletics.  Tom was a superb long distance runner. 

Shortly after Roger Bannister became the first person to run a mile in under four minutes (3:59.4 to be exact), Tom ran a mile in four minutes, twelve seconds which was quite an achievement for a seventeen year old boy at that time, and which was a record in Trinidad and Tobago.  During the last few months that he lived in Toronto, Tom used to call me every day.  We would reminisce about our mischievous days at St.Mary’s College.  We would recite together some of the prayers we learned as acolytes, and talk about how we consumed the wine that was left over by the priests after mass.  Fr. Anthony Pantin knew that all the acolytes did this.

Farewell, my dear friend.

Tom and friend Frank Gamaldo 1961
Tom Sosa
Premier David Peterson and Tom Sosa
(Form left) Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Thomas Sosa, and PM Stephen Harper