Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Bill Thompson, Jr.: 1932 - 2011

Bill Thompson, Jr., back row, center, with his family. The world lost a great one when Bill passed on yesterday afternoon. It would take an abundance of superlatives to do Mr. Thompson justice. Everyone who ever encountered Bill came away feeling a little more important, a little better appreciated, and a little more liked. He was the kind of guy who always asked after others, was quick with a joke and a smile, and hid a mountain of talent behind a natural humility that had him more interested in you than talking about himself.

Bill, along with his wife Elsa, began Bird Watcher's Digest on a shoestring back in 1978, and of course the publication is now the best known amongst many such mags. There wasn't anything like BWD in 1978, and it was a most definite gamble to launch a birding-heavy magazine back then. But it worked.

I got to know Bill reasonably well over the last decade+, and it was always a high point to see him. The more I learned of him, the more impressed I became. When I found out he was a jazz pianist, it blew me away. He was hardly a guy to be pigeonholed, and Bill managed to do a lot of things in his long life, and do them well.

My condolences go out to the entire Thompson family, and Bill will be missed by scores of friends. The Marietta Times ran a nice piece on Bill's life today; it follows.

Marietta Times
Marietta leader dies at age 78
Bill Thompson remembered as a mentor and innovator
January 26, 2011 - By Sam Shawver,

Bird Watcher's Digest co-founder and community leader Bill Thompson, Jr., died Tuesday afternoon. He was 78.

Andy Thompson, state representative and Bird Watcher's Digest publisher, said his father had developed pneumonia and was admitted to Marietta Memorial Hospital Friday. He died around 2 p.m. Tuesday of complications related to the pneumonia.

"My dad was a mentor to so many people in this community - he was a great role model," Andy Thompson said.

Julie Zickefoose, Bill Thompson's daughter-in-law and a contributing editor to Bird Watcher's Digest, described him as "a very generous and creative spirit."

"He loved and believed in Marietta like no one else," she said. "And he worked well into what would have been retirement age to make it better."

Zickefoose noted her father-in-law has many legacies, including the magazine and his work in the community, but another important memory to her is his musical talent.

"I think my favorite place to see him was behind the piano," she said. "He was an amazing jazz pianist, and he could take you places very few people can."

Bob Kirkbride, a longtime friend and former co-worker, said the community will really miss Bill Thompson.

"Bill and I worked together at Marietta College for about five years in the mid-1970s, although he was employed there much longer than I," he said. "He was vice president of development, and I was vice president for finance and administration. His job was to raise money, and mine was to save it."

Kirkbride said Bill Thompson deserves a lot of recognition for what he was able to do during his years with the college.

"Bill planted a lot of seeds with donors that the college continues to benefit from to this day," he said.

Thompson and Kirkbride also began working with many others in 1991 to build up the Marietta Community Foundation, a philanthropic organization that supports a myriad of community and charitable endeavors. Bill Thompson served as the foundation's president and CEO from 2007 to 2010.

"The foundation has now given more than $10 million to the community and also possesses an endowment of $10 million," Kirkbride said. "And Bill had an important part in that."

Mark Schwendeman is chairman of the Marietta Community Foundation Board.

"In his role as CEO and mine as board chairman, Bill and I had developed a great friendship," Schwendeman said.

"Probably one of his biggest legacies will be the 20/20 Fund project," he said. "Bill and Elsa (Bill's wife) worked together in that to bring the hot lunch program back into Marietta schools. And the foundation's new Vision Project, just under way, will benefit the community for years to come."

Marietta Mayor Michael Mullen had known Bill Thompson since the mayor was a teenager.

"His son, Bill III, and I played music together more than 30 years ago," Mullen said. "Bill Jr. was a fine, fine, fellow -- always had a big smile and a hearty laugh. He made you feel so comfortable and was never superficial. You felt a one-to-one, genuine human connection when he was around.

"This community will truly miss his spirit, and our condolences go out to his entire family," the mayor said.

In addition to his wife and two sons, Bill Thompson Jr., is survived by a daughter, Laura (Thompson) Fulton.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your tribute to Mr. Thompson. He was an avid protector of wildlife (especially birds). We did lose a compassionate birder and outdoorsman. Our prayers are with the Thompson family. Donna L. Ohio

Bill of the Birds said...

Thanks for this, Jim.

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