Nov. 2, 2002 – Tommy Starfish got a warm welcome home to the Virgin Islands at the Seaborne Seaplanes ramp on St. Thomas Friday after a tour of the U.S. mainland to pick up some tips on touting his territory.
Unlike Charlie the Tuna, who is really nothing but an advertising gimmick, Tommy has principles, and he is educated. However, Tommy doesn't dwell on weighty matters. He is home to take on his duties as the official mascot of the islands' tourism and hospitality industry.
Actually, Tommy doesn't talk, but he has more ventriloquists than your average mute starfish. One of them, Jason Budsan, explained on Friday that "Tommy was born at Coral World, and when we told him what he would grow up to be, he spread his arms, gulped and said the starfish equivalent of 'Whoopee!' So, we sent him to the States for training."
Gazing doubtfully for a moment at Tommy, he added, "We didn't know he would return home wearing these enormous shades."
Budsan is a member of the St. Thomas-St. John Hotel and Tourism Association Hospitality Focus Group that has been in charge of the care and grooming of Tommy. Other ventriloquists, David Yamada, association president and general manager of Renaissance Grand Beach Resort, and Mary Gleason, retired after a long career with Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort, told of Tommy's upcoming first foray into his vacation vocation.
They said Tommy will introduce the group's St. Thomas signage project, which will be inaugurated next Friday. The project is something the focus group has been working on for more than a year. More than a hundred color-coded starfish signs will guide tourists and residents around the island starting from the airport.
After Tommy has the signage project in gear, his first "formal" appearance, according to Gleason, will be at the association's gala dinner dance on Nov.16 at Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort, where the first of what are to become annual "Tommy" awards will be presented to outstanding hospitality personnel.
Tommy had quite a reception at the seaplane ramp, with a steelpan ensemble from Holy Family Catholic Church, dozens of tourism and hospitality greeters and, of course, some kids. Monique Sibilly-Hodge, Tourism Department assistant commissioner, brought four of her nieces and nephews, They, along with everyone else, greeted the starfish with blue and yellow pennants adorned with his image and his motto, "Smile, V.I. Style."

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