Terence Todman, a Virgin Islander who served as a U.S. ambassador for more than four decades, died Wednesday at Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas.
He was 88.
Todman was the kind of person who spoke his mind, standing up to teachers in the Charlotte Amalie High School newspaper and later to President Ronald Reagan about Reagan’s stance on apartheid in South Africa.
He was a natural leader, with an understated and easy style.
Creative, artistic and brilliant, Todman was a protege of J. Antonio Jarvis, who exposed him as a young boy to the world of music, art and literature.
When he traveled the globe in service of the U.S. State Department, Todman always learned the language of the country to which he was assigned to better represent America abroad.
Despite his success and his world travel, he remained humble and approachable, and he always came home to his beloved St. Thomas.
In the end, he made sure he died at home too.
“He never worried about small things,” said former Gov. Roy Schneider, one of Todman’s closest friends. “He was a person who had tremendous vision, tremendous energy and love for people all over the world. Regardless of race, religion or political standing.”
CAHS Class of 1944 classmate Ruth Thomas said Todman and his wife, Doris, always would come to visit her whenever they came back to St. Thomas. He would sit in her back yard under her tamarind tree and quietly take in the view.
“He didn’t change,” she said. “He came up and sit down under the tree out there and look out at the airport and chat, same as always.”
A deeply religious man, Todman was a member of Christ Church Methodist, and when he was in town, he would attend services and speak to everyone. He always remembered your name, your family, Thomas said.
Todman was one of 13 children, born on St. Thomas.
After graduating from CAHS in 1944, he spent one year at Puerto Rico’s Inter-American University before dropping out to join the Army. It was the end of World War II, Japan had just surrendered after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Todman was stationed in Japan for four years. When he left, he had risen to the rank of first lieutenant, and many years later, he was inducted into the Infantry Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Ga.
He returned to the university he left four years earlier and graduated with a degree in political science, then went on to earn a master’s degree in public administration from Syracuse University.
Todman’s career with the State Department began while he was still a student, and upon graduation, he moved to Washington, D.C. After serving as part of the State Department’s delegation to the United Nations, he got his first foreign assignment to work in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India.
He was then assigned to Lebanon, Tunisia and Togo, before returning to Washington to serve as the officer for East African Affairs.
In 1969, he became an ambassador; his first post was in the Republic of Chad, in Africa.
Over the course of his career, Todman served as ambassador to Guinea, Costa Rica, Spain, Denmark and Argentina. He also worked as the assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, a position in which he helped broker the Panama Canal Treaty.
He spoke fluent French, Spanish, Arabic and Russian.
In 1983, Reagan asked Todman to be ambassador to South Africa, but Todman refused, saying he did not agree with the president’s stance on apartheid.
He was named career ambassador by President George H.W. Bush in 1989, and retired from government service in 1993, starting his own consulting firm.
Schneider said Todman convinced him to return to the territory after getting his medical degree in the states so he could help Virgin Islanders.
When Schneider was Health commissioner, Todman helped him convince Congress to fund the construction of the hospitals we have today.
“He was so gracious,” Schneider said. “He had a talent for making people feel good about themselves.”
Last month, the V.I. Legislature named the airport access road after Todman and assigned a professorship in his honor at the University of the Virgin Islands.
Schneider said he shared the news with Todman, who already was in the hospital.
“He smiled,” Schneider said.
“He was an exceptional human being and his loss will be felt all over the world,” he said.
Former Gov. Charles Turnbull, who knew Todman for 30 years, said Wednesday that the Virgin Islands has lost one of the greatest men the territory has ever produced.
“He was a humble person, unassuming but very, very positive, very meticulous,” Turnbull said. “He was a perfectionist in everything he did.”
Gov. John deJongh Jr. offered his condolences to the Todman family Wednesday, as did Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen and Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone.
DeJongh has ordered all flags in the territory be flown at half-mast until Todman’s interment.
“We have lost a tremendous individual and son of our soil, a person that made his presence known internationally but never lost touch with his roots and his home,” deJongh said. “He was a quiet force in our community on so many levels. And with his constant outreach to students, community organizations, his non-profit foundation and most recently the naming of a chair in his honor at the University of the Virgin Islands, his presence and influence will be with us forever.”