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Gentle giant ‘would have died forgiving’

A very large community of family, friends and work colleagues has expressed shock over the death in Kenya of James Thomas (57), a gentle giant known for his bear hugs and his complete intolerance of poverty and unemployment. James was shot and killed during what has been labelled in the press as a terrorist attack in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Picture: Handout/Supplied

A very large community of family, friends and work colleagues has expressed shock over the death in Kenya of James Thomas (57), a gentle giant known for his bear hugs and his complete intolerance of poverty and unemployment. James was shot and killed during what has been labelled in the press as a terrorist attack in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Picture: Handout/Supplied

Published Sep 23, 2013

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Cape Town - Relatives of Mowbray resident James Thomas, who died in the Kenyan shopping mall massacre, said he would leave a legacy of fighting unemployment and poverty.

He was described as a “gentle giant known for his bear hugs and his complete intolerance of poverty and unemployment” and as “an enthusiast, an encourager, an optimist and an entrepreneur”.

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A statement released on Sunday on behalf of family, friends and colleagues spoke of his legacy of forgiveness.

“He lived forgiving and would have died forgiving,” his widow Colleen said, adding that he was a “creative visionary determined to see people flourish and reach their goals”.

“He used every possible method and deep creativity to break through people’s passivity to create jobs for themselves. He simply would not rest until he saw that person fully developed.”

Thomas was one of six South Africans in the Westgate Mall when armed attackers stormed in and opened fire on Saturday. He had been shopping with friends and colleagues and had wandered off before the shooting started. His friends escaped but Thomas never made it out of the mall.

His friend, the Rev David Meldrum, said: “We spent Saturday and Sunday morning agonising as we depended on James’s friends for news, but they could not find him. They later identified his body in a morgue and called us on Sunday around 12.30 noon with the terrible news.”

The family had been told he had been shot, but no further information was available. Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Marius Fransman visited the family.

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Thomas, 57, was involved in an entrepreneurial training programme for the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation.

He was married to Colleen for 33 years.

The couple have two daughters, Sarah, who is on holiday in Europe, Julie, a UCT student and the couple’s teenage nephew, Sipho Johnson, who lives with them.

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Thomas was the chairman of the Cape Town Youth Choir.

He founded a development consultancy, Just Think, in 2000 to develop enterprise, finance and entrepreneurship materials for students.

He trained entrepreneurs in business management.

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