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Remembering the booming voice, intellectual vigor of John Thompson

In mid-December, John Henry Lee Thompson died, leaving a void in his family, a gaping hole in the leadership of the church and a lasting legacy of academic and spiritual achievement at Oklahoma Christian University.
I had the great blessing of knowing John since he entered Oklahoma Christian as a freshman. My first conversation with him was answering questions about the requirements for the Rhodes Scholarship and the Fulbright Fellowships. He had a big booming voice that modulated in privacy without losing in force. He always used his hands as a vital part of his nonverbal conversation.
One day in the student union I heard a group of students calling him Fat Albert. When I asked the students about that name, they told me he encouraged them to call him that. I was never comfortable with that, but it made him one of the best-known students in class.
The First and Georgia Church in Chickasha, Okla., primed him to be a great leader in the church. He was soon recognized throughout Oklahoma Christian as bright, studious, mature and visionary. Jim Wilson became his mentor and coach. That relationship lasted throughout John’s life.
When he was elected president of student government at the end of his sophomore year, John immediately asked permission to create a student academic affairs committee to work with the faculty to promote high academic standards and stronger course offerings. His zeal for academic improvement never waned, and by the end of his senior year he had accepted a fellowship at the University of Oklahoma in Norman to study American history.
John began teaching at Oklahoma in 1980, taking a leave of absence to pursue a doctorate in African-American studies at Purdue. From the beginning of his teaching career he was a powerful communicator and a magnet for students with good minds and an interest in scholarship. His gracious manner, his keen mind and his infectious sense of humor impacted the whole campus. He served on many faculty committees dealing with quality education issues.
John was one of those amazing African-Americans who moved easily between the black and white communities. He was equally comfortable in both and he helped build bridges over differences and conflicts. He was a powerful orator. I remember his reading of James Weldon Johnson’s “God’s Trombones” at a memorial event. I also recall numerous discussions about racial issues in which he was able to talk with balance and objectivity.
John married Murrell Porter. They had three children, Jennifer, Johnathan and Jessica. He was very active in the Wilshire church in Oklahoma City where he had become an elder two years ago.
While the joys of life were ascending, John encountered serious health issues. His blood pressure was out of control and eventually caused kidney failure, which required dialysis. A kidney transplant was unsuccessful.
Diabetes complicated his health issues, eventually resulting in the amputation of one foot and the loss of both legs from the knee down.
With the aid of technology he taught classes from his hospital bed and his home. Students never thought his tele-lectures dry or boring. Year after year the whole student body embraced Dr. Thompson and his courage.
Because his office was on the second floor, the student government led students, faculty and staff in raising the funds to add an elevator.
The academic world and the church lost an amazing scholar and a precious servant of God who inspired generations with his intellect and his heart. He lived by 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 to the end:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory. … For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Filed under: Insight

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