The body of Robert Thomas, 48, of Jersey City was recovered from the flooded former Tilly Foster iron mine in New York’s Putnam County on Nov. 20. An experience scuba diver, he apparent dove into the mine earlier in the day for recreational purposes. But media reports quoted a friend who said he never came back out.
“We lost a beautiful human being on Monday,” said Christine Goodman, former executive director of Art House Productions in Jersey City. “Bob Thomas was a wonderful supporter of our Jersey City arts community, which is how we met. Bob was such a kind soul, always full of hugs and laughs. Can’t believe he’s gone.”
Art House Productions, which started in Victory Hall on Grand Street, has been responsible for a number of artist events, including JC Fridays, and has put on dance, musical and literary events for more than 15 years. Thomas attended many of the Art House Productions over the years, a kind of bridge between arts and industry.
An enterprise architect at MLB Advanced Media, he previously worked at Hewlett Packard Enterprise as well as for IBM. He studied management information systems at the University of Buffalo. He lived in Buffalo prior to moving to Jersey City.
He appears to have been a strong supporter of science, and an advocate for battling global climate change.
An experienced diver
Thomas was both an experience diver as well as familiar with the area where he was found, having done previous dives in that area.
This dive was supposed to have been for 90 minutes, and when he did not return, friends called the police.
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Department employed sophisticated sonar and deep water cameras to explore the mine shaft in search of Thomas, according to several news accounts. The mine shaft is about 600 feet deep. A team of first responders used a cable to recover his body, once it was located at about 170 feet below the surface.
Local officials said the floor of the mine shaft was littered with the wreckage of cars and rusted mining equipment, all with potential sharp edges that could have torn Thomas’ diving equipment. An early assessment suggested that he may have become entangled with wires or cables near the bottom of the shaft.
The mine has a history of disaster. Thirteen people lost their lives there in 1985 when the mine collapsed.
Barb Mercer Nonnewitz in response to a posting on Facebook, said “shocked and saddened.” “Bob we will miss you buddy, you were my rock at IBM when I kicked into Maximo and our friendships stayed true,” Nonnewitz said. “I am sad for your friends and family who had more than Facebook with you. So sad, but in your humor you would not want that and so cheers to you, a kind soul and smiling always, loved and missed by all you touched.”
Other friends posted hymns and poems on his Facebook page in tribute to him.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.