For the first time in many years Gina recently swung on a swing at the Jenks playground in Chestnut Hill. “I needed to have my picture taken,” she explained, “and the photographer snapped this …
by Len Lear
Over the years I have met quite a few lawyers in the Greater Chestnut Hill area and quite a few opera singers, but Gina Thomas is the only one I have ever come across who is both a lawyer and talented opera singer. A lifelong resident of West Mt. Airy, Gina attended elementary school at Holy Cross Catholic School on East Mt. Airy Avenue. A lifelong member of the parish, Gina then attended the Philadelphia High School for Girls.
During her high school years, Thomas, now 54, sang for the “Treble Clef,” the glee club at Girls High School, and she later sang for the Gospel Choir and Glee Club of Princeton University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1987. She then earned a degree from Temple University Law School in 1990. “I majored in political science but took piano, music theory and voice lessons while in college,” said Thomas, who works for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in Norristown.
As assistant counsel at PA DEP, for which she has worked for 27 years, Thomas counsels and litigates enforcement cases regarding safe drinking water, radiation protection and environmental cleanups and “brownfields” for the Southeast Region, which includes Philadelphia and the four adjacent counties.
“My work for PA DEP can be very rewarding,” said Thomas last week, “especially in the environmental cleanup and brownfields program. When we are successful in this area, the results are tangible, including the remediation of formerly blighted urban contaminated sites.”
Since early March Thomas' office has been telecommuting and working off-site because of the pandemic. “However,” she insisted, “environmental enforcement continues full steam ahead ... in spite of the pandemic.”
But what definitely sets Thomas apart from the area's other lawyers is her superb singing voice. Most of her singing has been as a volunteer with the Delaware Valley Opera Co. Their last major performance was the opera “Carmen” in August, 2019, and “Amahl and the Night Visitors” in January of this year. However, because of the pandemic, the only singing Thomas continues to do is as a cantor at Our Mother of Consolation Church.
“The only solos I have done have been at OMC,” she said. “Before the pandemic, I auditioned and got a small role in the opera 'Dialogue of the Carmelites,' by Poulenc. We will likely perform this opera in 2021.
“The staff members of DVOC are consummate professionals who are wonderful to work with,” Thomas said in an earlier interview. “I am impressed that DVOC, although it has a limited budget, manages to produce outstanding productions of classic operas. And I like the fact that our rehearsals are in either Lafayette Hill or Manayunk, and our performances are at the Venice Island Performing Arts Center, also in Manayunk. Both locations are convenient to my home in West Mt. Airy.
“The best part of being part of DVOC is the music. I enjoy the rehearsals, sometimes just to hear my colleagues sing … I am extremely proud of the work of my colleagues in the company. Many of our singers are younger artists who are starting their careers. I very much admire their work and am impressed by their talent and dedication. Opera is for everyone, not just the rich or the super-cultured.”
Thomas said her singing at OMC has been therapeutic in light of the pandemic and the after-effects of the George Floyd killing. She recently performed the classic “Panis Angelicus” at OMC after the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. “In a way it was a soothing musical balm both for me and, I hope, the listeners at the church.”
Gina said she also wanted to take this opportunity to praise her twin sister, Tina Thomas-Lyght, a managing insurance underwriter in Maryland. “She is much more of a creative spirit than I am,” the singing lawyer said modestly. “In addition to her business degree, she also has a degree in culinary arts, and she is a fantastic pastry chef.”
When asked what one thing she would most like to see vanish from the earth, Thomas said quickly, “It would be racism. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It is my hope that the Black Lives Matter movement will result in meaningful changes in this country and not just the cosmetic removal of a few statues.”
Michael Caruso contributed to this article. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org