Remembering Jim Thomson: A life of service and commitment

Date: 05 December 2023

This image is featured on the YMCA Scotland web page “Jim Thomson Remembers”

The YMCA community was deeply saddened to learn of the passing on 1 December 2023 of Jim Thomson, a longtime leader who dedicated his life to the service of others. Born in 1923, Jim recently celebrated his 100th birthday.

His journey with the YMCA began in 1960 in Glasgow, Scotland. His career spanned various roles and included serving as the World Alliance African Refugee Secretary from 1974-1980 and serving as the National Secretary of YMCA Scotland. Jim was respected for his professional achievements and dearly loved for his wonderful sense of humour and innate gift for storytelling. Those who knew him personally will remember him as a source of joy and inspiration.

“Jim was a YMCA icon, a pioneer, a legend”, says World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee. “We all stand in awe of what this great man has brought to our organisation. And I stood in awe of him at his 100th birthday party recently, when he addressed me in perfect Swahili – far better than my own. We thank Jim for everything – he will live long in our collective memory.”

Contributions and global impact

Jim was instrumental in the “One for the World” fundraising campaign launched at the World Council in Denmark in 1985. In his dossier, The Work of National YMCA Movements and the World Alliance of YMCAs with Refugees and Rehabilitation, 1945-1995, his efforts in documenting the YMCA’s role in aiding refugees and disaster victims highlighted the organisation’s global reach and adaptability.

In recent years, a speech he gave at the YMCA Europe Assembly in Madrid in 2016 – remembering his work with refugees during his time with the World YMCA – is still talked about. Read the text on the YMCA Europe website here.

Legacy in post-war efforts

In 2019, YMCA Scotland featured Jim’s recounting of the YMCA in the post-World War II era. He described how the YMCA and YWCA initiated work in displaced people’s camps, establishing new YMCA centres across Europe. This period saw an incredible mobilisation of over 2,000 professional YMCA personnel working across Germany, France, the UK, and Spain.

As we mourn Jim’s loss, we also celebrate the indelible mark he left on the YMCA and the countless lives he touched. His legacy continues to inspire us in our mission to build an equitable and Just World for all.

Commemorating his life

A memorial service is planned for late January 2024. This will be an opportunity for the YMCA community to come together to celebrate his life and legacy.

For more details about a remarkable life, see this interview and an article in the UK’s Daily Record when he was awarded a medallion at age 98 for his contribution to the war effort 75 years earlier.