Remembering Deryck Thomson: Social work pioneer was an “iconic figure”

Deryck Thomson, executive director for Family Services from 1954 to 1977, has passed away at age 92.

“Deryck was an iconic figure to young social workers,” says Barbara Brett, executive director from 1981 to 1996. He focused his attention not only on leading the agency, but on advocacy and public education too. He used the media to raise awareness about the importance of social services and the needs of families. “He wrote letters to the editor and really became an important public presence in terms of speaking about social issues and policy.” He made headlines more than once for suggesting that many parents would benefit from training to gain skills and improve family life – a shocking idea at the time. In 1967 he was quoted in the Vancouver Sun as saying: “It is an odd commentary on our social values that four years of agricultural college is required to raise pigs, but how to raise a family or build a marriage is left solely to chance, intuition or sheer blind luck.” He also participated in a pseudo6reality television show called ‘People in Conflict’ in which actors would describe common family problems and a panel of experts would offer guidance.

Deryck was also one of the founders of the BC Association of Social Workers and was its first president (as well as being BC’s first registered social worker). During his years at ED, Family Services achieved many firsts such as decentralization of services into local areas, the establishment of a day care centre on Cordova Street, the Family Life Education Program, and the first independent Client Opinion Survey.

Deryck Thomson retired from Family Services in 1975 after leading the agency for 21 years. His pioneering work has been recognized by the BC Association of Social Workers with a lifetime achievement award, as well as the Social Planning and Research Council of BC where he was awarded a lifetime membership, becoming the first recipient of the annual Deryck Thomson Award for Social Planning.

“He was very bright, capable and concerned about social issues broadly, he didn’t have a narrow point of view and was very well respected,” says Barbara.