Mrs Iskandar Tannūs 1 (Thamīn Khūrī) was born in Hardīn, Lebanon on 25 December 1895.2
She was the daughter of Ilyās Khūrī and Sufīyah Riyād Hassī and she was married in 1910 to Iskandar Tannūs (aka Alexander Thomas, b. 15 May 1890) who earned a living selling fruit and vegetables in their home village.
It was decided that Thelma and her husband would emigrate and Alexander travelled ahead first, settling in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania where his married brother Bashīr (Charles) had previously emigrated to and who operated his own dry goods store there. Alexander sent Charles back to Lebanon to fetch his wife and son As'ad (who had been born on 8 November 1911) and return with them to Wilkes-Barre.
Thelma, her son As'ad, brother-in-law Charles Thomas (Bashīr Tannūs) and several others from their village of Hardīn left for Beirut where they would cross to Marseille and eventually arrive in Cherbourg. The party boarded the Titanic at Cherbourg on 10 April 1912 as third class passengers (Thelma and her son As'ad on joint ticket number 2625 which cost £8, 10s, 4d) and Thelma was headed to 33 Loomis Street in Wilkes-Barre. Among the various relatives travelling with her were her cousins Amīnah Mubārik and her sons and Sīlānah Yazbak and her husband Antūn Mūsà Yazbak.
On the night of the sinking Thelma and her brother-in-law Charles brought baby As'ad to the upper decks but they got separated in the confusion, Thelma ending up in a lifeboat with Charles still clutching baby As'ad. It is not certain which lifeboat Thelma departed in: some sources would suggest that she left in lifeboat 14 with baby As'ad being passed to a woman (later identified as Edwina Troutt) who then entered boat 16. Other sources have Thelma departing in boat C and baby As'ad in the arms of Miss Troutt in boat D.
Thelma and her son survived the sinking and were reunited aboard Carpathia. Her brother-in-law Charles was lost.
Hospitalised in New York for the effects of shock and exposure Thelma and her son eventually landed in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and was reunited with her husband. She remained in Wilkes-Barre (at 216 Stanton Street) for the rest of her life and had a further nine children: Sadie (b. 1914), Edward (b. 1916), Sarah (b. 1919), Helen (b. 1921), Joseph (b. 1923), Mae (b. 1925), Peter (b. 1927), Marjorie (b. 1930) and Jean (b. 1932). She and her husband continued to operate a produce store and she was widowed in 1938.
Thelma became a local celebrity and was frequently interviewed by local media about her experiences over many years and always claimed that the screams of those struggling in the water never left her memory and gave her occasional nightmares. She was also present at some low-key survivor reunions with survivors from her area, including Leah Aks, Selena Cook and May Futrelle and for a while she corresponded with Edwina Troutt, the woman who had saved her son As'ad. Edwina Troutt had been identified as As'ad's saviour when in 1972 she was being interviewed on NBC's Today Show and described how a man handed her a baby before she entered a lifeboat. Dave DeCosmo, a manager at a radio station, who had seen the interview, made some enquiries and put Edwina and Thelma Thomas in contact with each other. Although the two survivors never met each other, they did speak on the phone and write each other until Thelma's death. Thelma had also been a guest at a screening of A Night to Remember in 1958 in Washington, DC.
Thelma Thomas lived much of her life at 216 Stanton Street in Wilkes-Barre. She died in Valley Crest Nursing Home after a brief stay on 7 January 1974 aged 78. She was buried in St Mary's Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre.
Several of her children are still alive as of 2014 and she is remembered by them as a very kind yet strong and outspoken lady.
- Thamine, "Thamin", or "Tamin" as her name is variously spelled, presumably anglicized her name to Thelma Thomas after her arrival in America.
- Her social security application gives her year of birth as 25 December 1893.
References and Sources
Contract Ticket List, White Star Line 1912 (National Archives, New York; NRAN-21-SDNYCIVCAS-55)
Judith Geller (1998) Titanic: Women and Children First. Haynes. ISBN 1 85260 594 4
Leila Salloum Elias (2011) The Dream and Then the Nightmare: The Syrians who Boarded the Titanic, the Story of the Arabic-speaking Passengers. Atlas, ISBN 978-9933-9086-1-4
Unidentified newspaper, 14 April 1979: DeCosmo Identified Titanic Baby's Rescuer
Sunday Independent, Wilkes-Barre, 10 April 1960
Unidentified newspaper, 13 April 1962, City Resident Tells Of Disaster At Sea
Unidentified newspaper, 8 January 1974, Obituary
Unidentified newspaper, 15 September 1985: Titanic Discovery Stirs Memories For Mae Thomas
The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, 13 April 1992: The Night Lives On
Gavin Bell, UK
Michael A. Findlay, USA
Articles and Stories
Newark Star (1912)
Washington Post (1974)
North American (1912)