More than 300 family members, friends and Pine Islanders filled Pine Island Methodist Church last week to celebrate the life of island resident, and former principal of Pine Island Elementary School, Tommy Thompson.
As people entered the sanctuary of the church, images of Thompson filled the overhead screen while Credence Clearwater Revival's "Looking Out My Backdoor" played quietly in the background.
Good friend Dr. Ken Bass remembered Thompson as someone that was always happy.
"I feel super lucky to have been a friend of Tommy," he said. "I remember the first time I had met Tommy, he came over to my house and started talking to me. An hour and a half later he went home and my wife comes out and asks, 'What did you think of him?'
"Well, he was nice, he was funny, he seemed like a nice guy." She looked at me and said, "But?"
"But there's no way anybody can be that happy and that funny all the time,' Bass continued. 'I learned that that's who Tommy was. He was that happy and that funny all of the time. If you were around Tommy you would have a good time. He always had a smile on his face and I never saw him where he didn't make everybody else smile. I think that was his mission to make everybody else smile."
I feel super lucky to have been a friend of Tommy. He always had a smile on his face and I never saw him where he didn't make everybody else smile. I think that was his mission to make everybody else smile."
Dr. Ken Bass
about his friend Tommy Thompson
Bass went on to say, "Tommy had many interests including boating, birding, fishing and anything outdoors. Our biggest difference was Tommy was an FSU fan that was his biggest downfall I guess. My wife and Tommy for a few years bet on the game. I remember when the Seminoles won my wife would pay Tommy the money. He never did anything with the money other than write the score real large on the front of the money, frame it, and put it on the top of the toilet. So every time we went to Tommy's house you had to see the winnings. And every time I came out of the bathroom he would just smile and ask, 'Is everything all right?'
"About six weeks ago Tommy, Gay, me and my wife took a trip to the Bahamas," he continued. "It was at the end of the day and we were sitting on the dock watching the sun set. We were all having a drink and I said, 'This is as good as it gets!'"
Another friend Dr. Pat Mericle, "snowbirds" from Minnesota, reminisced about Thompson.
"When Gay asked me to speak at Tommy's memorial service, I wondered 'What am I doing?'" he said. "Tommy was the greatest storyteller and no one could do this better than Tommy. Simply put ,Tommy Thompson was a love who loved life with a zest and zeal that defied description. His white hair, cheshire grin, lilting walk and a huge heart. He walked through any door and the whole room lit up. He just loved so many things.
"We went on many camping trips with Tommy and Gay and he just blended into nature like he belonged there," he continued. "He loved his hobbies and created some spectacular pieces. They're everywhere we look at our house. Tommy and Gay visited us in Minnesota many times. Once when we were in Minnesota and Tommy was in Florida I sent an email with a picture of my husband wearing a parka blowing 12 inches of snow titled, 'Blowing snow Minnesota style.' Three hours later I get a picture back of Tommy in his yard, in a T-shirt, shorts, flip flops, and he has his leaf blower, titled 'Blowing Florida style.'
Mericle concluded by saying, "Losing Tommy Thompson is like having a piece of your world fall off into space. His presence in our lives can't be replaced. If we really want to pay tribute to this incredible human being, we must remind ourselves to live our lives the way he did."
Carlyn Herring worked at Pine Island Elementary for more than 10 years and knew Tommy Thompson well. "When I first met Tommy, he was the new principal at the school," she said. "From the very beginning you knew one thing about Tommy. That he was married, and he loved and respected his wife Gay so very much. At Pine Island Elementary we were all family, all members of a team and the kids came first. Tommy always celebrated our victories and mourned our losses. Tommy was always there during the tough times. If you got a call that you had to go to the emergency room, Tommy usually beat you there."
Herring went on to say, "Some of you may know Tommy won principal of the year for Lee County School District for school year 1999-2000. His management style to this day is still used as an example of how to administrate a school.
"I remember Tommy being asked once, 'Who runs your school when you're not there?' and Tommy replied, 'The same people who run it when I am there.'
Reminiscing about Tommy Thompson, good friend Thomas Clapp said, "You could hear Tommy's laughter across the room. He was a leader, he was a scholar but most of all he was a great friend. He made others feel great. I remember fishing once and I was poling and Tommy was fishing. As the sun came up I said, 'Tommy, there's no other place I'd rather be.' If you want the memory of Tommy to live on, be like Tommy. Every day, laugh, be a practical joker, be a scholar, be a leader, but be a great friend."
Donations in Tommy Thompson's memory may be made to Pine Island United Methodist Church, 5701 Pine Island Road, NW, Bokeelia, FL 33922, to benefit the Food For Kids Weekend Backpack Program for the Pine Island Elementary School.