This Eulogy was given at Dr. Thompson’s final services by Gab Togner">

This Eulogy was given at Dr. Thompson’s final services by Gab Togner">

This Eulogy was given at Dr. Thompson’s final services by Gab Togner">

This Eulogy was given at Dr. Thompson’s final services by Gab Togner, husband of daughter Patricia Thompson.

William L. Thompson
1909 - 1998

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Dad’s Eulogy

     William Lewis Thompson, Jr. was born in Point Richmond on February 17, 1909. Thus began a life in Richmond during the first decade of the 20th century that would be connected with the town well into the last decade. According to his brother Chet "Lewis" as he was called by his family and closest friends while he was growing up, was a quiet child. He was comfortable around family and neighborhood friends, but shy and aloof in the larger school setting, earning the nickname "Lonesome Lew" He was very studious, with an almost photographic memory which allowed him to store and retrieve vast amounts of information. This was particularly useful when Lewis would lead the neighborhood group of kids on imaginary safaris and explorations.

    Days around Richmond for dad and his brother were spent playing various sports out and around the neighborhood. Dad liked sports at a young age, an interest that he would continue throughout his life. There was also much time spent going down to the bay to fish for perch and rock cod, using worms or clams that were abundant down by the water. A fishing pole consisted of a long stick with some line, and nuts and bolts for weights. The boys also caught crab with homemade crab nets.

    Lew, Sr. as his father was called, worked for the Standard Oil Company as a foreman. He enjoyed the benefit of two weeks vacation each year, a rarity in those days. Because the family didn't own a car until 1917, vacation meant arranging for a buckboard wagon to come pick up their camping gear and haul it to the train which would take them to Emigrant Gap near Bear Valley. Other relatives would also arrange to be there at the same time. In 1924, the Thompson family obtained a permit to build a cabin on Forest Service property near what is now Kyburz along Hwy 50. Lew, Sr. and the two boys worked on the cabin over the next two years during his vacation time and completed it in 1926. One can understand why dad grew up with such a love of the mountains and hiking, having spent almost all his summer vacations in the Sierras. It also provided him with an entirely different climate zone, complete with unique flora and fauna to occupy his inquisitive mind.

    Dad went to Washington Grammar School, Roosevelt Junior High School (Teddy Roosevelt that is!), and Richmond High school from which he graduated in 1926. While in high school, he not only excelled academically, but also lettered in football and track. He entered U.C. Berkeley as a premed student and in 1929 was admitted to the Medical School at UCSF at the ripe old age of 20. It was in college that people started calling him "Bill". He commuted back and forth to medical school in San Francisco by ferry since no bridge was yet built spanning the bay. He completed medical school in 1933 and interned at Highland Hospital before joining the Civilian Conservation Corps as a contract surgeon for the Army.

    After the CCC's dad served as a resident physician at the Kern County Hospital in Bakersfield and then spent one year in post graduate study of surgery and surgical techniques at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago. In 1939, he returned to Richmond and opened his medical practice. In addition to his practice, he also began what was to he 36 years of service as medical examiner and forensic pathologist for the Contra Costa Coroners Office. In 1946, he married Dolores Lynch, a medical technologist at the Richmond Hospital. For their honeymoon, they climbed Mount Lassen, although dad would always have to mention how he had previously done it by himself much faster!

    Looking through old newspaper clippings, it appears that during the 50's and early 60's dad was prominently mentioned about every other week in the Richmond independent. He was a trustee during the formation of the Richmond Museum Association and one of the founding doctors behind the starting of Brookside Hospital. He was an active member and served as Vice President of the Richmond Grid Club, which focused on local high school and college level sports. He was also frequently mentioned in relation to his work with the Coroner's office. In one particular case, dad connected a skeleton that was found to a man who had been missing for over a year, providing information that led to the arrest of two men for murder. The paper concluded, "Dr. Thompson, according to Dr. C. L. Abbott, county coroner and Sheriff James Long, has proven to be one of the outstanding autopsy surgeons in the entire state and his findings and reports have been particularly helpful in many cases. In some, his findings have been the clues upon which have hinged the solution of crimes."

    A number of newspaper clippings mention his travels. In addition to his familiarity with the Sierras, having traversed the entire John Muir trail several times, he also traveled extensively throughout the Southwest. He rafted down the Colorado, the Green, the San Juan, and Yampa rivers decades before it became popular. He hiked to remote locations that only Indians and the hardiest individuals had been to. He came back from these trips with slides and movies and spoke to various groups about the importance of preserving these natural treasures. When the two girls were old enough, the entire family took vacations to these places that he found so fascinating, and it was partly as a result of this influence that both Pam and Pat studied anthropology and history in college.

    Dad was a very strong and determined hiker. In his book, “My Canyonlands,” Kent Frost, a famous Southwest tour guide wrote, "A few trekked out to backpack with me over old horse and deer trails, to sleep on cave floors beside campfires. Dr. Bill was the first. His steam engine stride set the pace for us in Dark Canyon, a huge corridor of exceptional beauty." Having hiked with him when I was in my twenties and he in his 70's, I can attest to the doctor's steam engine stride. One of his dear friends, Dr. Mel Hurley, used to say that whenever he was hiking with dad and needed to rest (which was often), all he had to do was pick up a rock and ask dad what it was. He was then guaranteed a lecture of sufficient length to catch his breath.

    There were also numerous newspaper photos showing dad at community functions or concerts with Dolores by his side. He didn't enjoy being photographed, but I'm sure that when she was in the picture, it didn't occur to him to say that the camera could break.

    To think that he did all these things while also making house calls, hospital rounds, and holding daily office hours is astonishing. As his old chum and Point Richmond native Ted Beck said, "he was the last of a dying breed of doctors."

    Unlike many of you, my memories of dad only go back to 1972. I would accompany Pat home on weekend visits from UC Davis which often involved attending the Cal football game with the Thompson's in the seats that he had held for many years. It was at those Cal games that I learned that USC football players are always paid, professional athletes that have no business being involved in college athletics, and that the Stanford band is a disgrace to humankind. Other immutable truths according to Bill Thompson are:

    Cholesterol didn't seem to be a problem for dad.

    Becoming part of the Thompson family, I also learned that dad celebrated Ground Hog's day and thought that Hallmark was missing a golden opportunity. Hence, family and a few friends took to sending him Ground Hog's Day cards every February 2nd.

    Dad finally retired in after 39 years practicing medicine in Richmond and 46 years of total practice. Of course, habits die hard and he continued to see some patients for a number of years after his official retirement. In his retirement years, he continued to read professional journals as well as numerous magazines about nature, history, geography, and the like. Dad often hiked around the Point Richmond hills and Point Reyes, and he especially enjoyed seeing the wildflowers in the spring. If a family member were along for the hike, they were treated to a recounting of the times he saw a mountain lion, a fox, or a herd of deer on the very same trail early one morning. He and mom were able to take a few memorable trips before she became too ill to travel, and then after he had spent so many years looking after so many in Richmond, he devoted himself to caring for Dolores.

    It was during this time that he also began putting on paper his memories of the places and people around Richmond. He became a frequent contributor to the newsletter of the historical society. He sent his pictures of the Botts airplane, an unsuccessful contemporary of the Wright brothers, to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

    As he did his entire life, dad spent his last years doing what he considered useful. He never sought the spotlight, and wasn't comfortable as the center of attention. But his record of service to this community over the years puts him in an elite group. He would have been surprised by today's turn out, but I'm not.

    Dad --- you used to sing, "If I had the wings of an angel." Now you do.