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Obituary: William James Thompson, Jr.

William James Thompson, Jr., 78, passed away peacefully on Sept. 27, 2010 surrounded by his family after a long battle with cancer.

Son of the late William J. and Kitty Grace Thompson of Pittsburgh, PA. Formerly of Manhasset, he was preceded in death in 2003 by his loving wife of 45 years, former Broadway and Columbia Records singing star Eileen Rodgers Thompson. They retired to their Lake Norman home in Cornelius, NC in 1998.

He is survived by his son, William J. Thompson III of Charlotte, daughter-in-law Maribeth, granddaughters Emily Lynn and Jenna Eileen and grandson William J. Thompson IV; son Mark Thompson of Manhasset, daughter-in-law Rachel, and grandsons Luke William and Christopher James; Sister Claire and husband Albert Zuckerman of New York City and Key West, FL. He is also survived by his loving and devoted companion and best friend, Dr. Carol G. Lewis.

Bill grew up in Pittsburgh and spent much of his childhood on the long since melted ice of Duquesne Gardens, longtime home of the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League, where his father managed the concessions. Bill could skate like the wind at the age of 6, and in full Hornets uniform, with the number 3/4 on his jersey, skated with the team prior to all home games. He grew from mascot to stickboy and clubhouse attendant, and by the time he graduated from Central Catholic High School, was practicing regularly with the Hornets, while playing with the Pittsburgh Amateur team in the Northeastern League. Upon graduation from Central, with many college hockey offers on the table, he accepted a full scholarship to Division 1 Colorado College in Colorado Springs, CO.

In his first year of varsity eligibility, 1950-51, he was a starting defense man on the defending NCAA champion Tigers, a team that again made it to the NCAA final four.

He graduated with honors and a BA Degree in Political Science and Economics in 1953. Spurning professional hockey offers, he returned to Pittsburgh and entered the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, while keeping his head in the game by again working out with the professional Pittsburgh Hornets. Upon successful completion of the first year of Law School, and hockey still boiling in his blood, he took a leave from school to take advantage of a unique offer to play for Cortina, Italy in the European Intercontinental League. He led Cortina to the 1955 Championship while winning Most Valuable Player honors.

Upon returning to the States, he was advised that he was to be one of the first choices of Coach John Mariucci (University of Minnesota,) for the 1956 United States Olympic Team. Law school was put on hold once again, and he did sales promotion work for the Gillette Safety Razor Company while training for the Olympics. Just prior to the games however, disappointment set in as the U.S. Olympic Committee, following the old “strictly amateur” code, declared Bill ineligible for the games, for receiving too much “expense” money while playing in the European league! That 1956 team won the Silver Medal by beating the semi-pro Canadian team (first time ever) before losing in the final to the strictly professional Russian team. In a Feb. 14, 1959 interview with sportswriter Jimmy Jordan in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Coach Mariucci, still fighting to have the Olympic eligibility rules changed, claimed his 1956 team “might well have beaten Russia as well as Canada if he had Thompson with him.” Bill would have been his point man on the power play, because of his blistering slap shot from the blue line.

This disappointment, and all thoughts of a legal career behind him, started Bill on a long and successful career in sales and marketing. In 1957 he accepted the position of Eastern Regional Sales Manager for Faberge’ major American cosmetics and toiletries company with offices in NY and Los Angeles. For the next 13 years, promotion followed promotion, to vice-president director of sales, and in 1972 to corporate vice president and executive assistant to the chief operating officer.

In 1975, his final career move was made, with his resignation from Faberge’ and the opening of his New York City offices of Bill Thompson Associates, Inc., which quickly became a very successful international marketing and distribution firm catering to all major chain store operations, from which he retired as president and chief executive officer in 1998.

During his many years in their home on Long Island, he was a devoted member of the prestigious Plandome Country Club on the North Shore. He was a low handicap golfer and served 21 years on the Board of Governors and Greens Chairman, including five consecutive terms as club president. At his retirement party, following his fifth term as president, 280 members in black tie unveiled a large bronze plaque naming the club’s main cocktail lounge “Bill’s Place - Dedicated by the membership to Bill Thompson, President (1983-1988) for his tireless efforts in beautifying our club.” Included in his many accomplishments at Plandome, was the 1978 conception, development and major success of the annual New York Jets Charity Golf Tournament and dinner. With the enthusiastic support of then Jets owner Leon Hess and General Manager Dick Steinberg, and the participation of Jets coaches, players and alumni, along with many well known celebrities and entertainers, the tournament raised substantial amounts of money for both the American Cancer Society, and the widows and orphans of the New York State Police who lost their lives in the line of duty. Bill chaired this tournament (along with six Jet head coaches) for 20 years!

One of Bill’s first decisions on retiring to North Carolina was to join the Peninsula Country Club on Lake Norman (a 10 minute boat ride, which he loved, from his dock on the lake to the club.)

He scored his eighth (and final) hole-in-one during the 1999 Member-Guest Tournament at the Peninsula.

Aside from golf, his passions included flying and power boating. He logged over 1000 hours in his single engine Beechcraft Bonanza, which he used for business and pleasure (or, as he would say, “it was all pleasure!”) Among his favorite hours were early morning flights from his local airport to Nantucket or Block Island to pick up live lobsters from his fishing boat buddies for friends and family! As a power boater, he was an active member of the Long Island Sound Division of the U. S. Power Squadron, and gave occasional classes on advanced navigation. Although this was time consuming, he felt obligated due to the fact that his wife Eileen, while starring in Fiorello on Broadway, had been honored by the Squadron with the title “Miss Long Island Sound!”

His passing ends the story of a very active New Yorker who loved every minute of his retirement in North Carolina.

The family received friends on Sept. 30 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway, Charlotte NC. A funeral Mass to celebrate his life was held Friday, Oct. 1 at St. Matthew Catholic Church. Entombment followed at Forest Lawn Mausoleum in Matthews, NC.

In lieu of flowers, please make any donations to: Disabled American Veterans, P.O.Box 14301, Cincinnati, Ohio 45250.

Arrangements were made by Heritage Funeral Service and St. Matthew Catholic Church.