My wife and I arrived forty-five minutes early at the visitation for Allan Edward Thompson on Sunday, which was scheduled to begin at 2 pm. There were about fifty people already lined up before the chapel doors. The doors were opened twenty minutes early, and by then the line extended out the front door of the funeral home. An hour later the line wasn’t any shorter but rather longer, extending into the parking lot. Ed knew a lot of people and they just kept on coming.
To say the very least about my good friend Ed Thompson, he was a colorful, multifaceted personality. He had character and he was a character, in the best sense of both usages of that word. He loved to laugh. He loved people.
When I first met Ed in 2003 there was quite a bit I didn’t know about him. I knew he had run for governor of Wisconsin in 2002 as a Libertarian, that he owned a restaurant, and that he had been busted for paying out $5 on a $10 bet on a nickel video poker machine.
As I got to know him, I learned that he had been a tough man boxer and a professional poker player, was a talented actor, had been mayor of Tomah, that he opened up his Teepee Supper Club to all comers for a free Thanksgiving dinner every year, that he had purchased his first bar at the age of 24, that he’d been a prison cook, that he would hire folks needing a boost, that he was known for his generosity and compassion, his love of family and his love of freedom, and his humility, and that he had an exuberant passion for life.
I learned that decades ago he became a deeply spiritual person, emerging from a dark night of the soul and literally seeing the light. From then on he meditated every morning before starting his day.
I learned that he was an avid reader and regularly read to senior citizens at the Tomah Care Center. He was instrumental in establishing the Senior Center in downtown Tomah where seniors go to play cards, have a good meal at a good price, and socialize with their friends.
I’ve never met anyone like Ed Thompson, and most likely I never will.
I’ll never forget his handshake, his hug, and hearing him say, “I love ya, brother.”
Ed’s legacy might be embodied in the block-long Teepee that grew over the years, or perhaps in having been a good mayor, or perhaps in the wonderful stories that have grown about him and his life.
Or it might be evidenced by that long line at the visitation.
Without thinking about it Ed built that line by remembering people’s names, greeting customers when they entered and when they left the Teepee, waving to folks across the street, consoling someone who was feeling low, expressing his enthusiasm for others’ successes, serving the community, and loving his family.
What better legacy than that? We love ya, brother.
Eno (aka Dave Hendrickson) wrote & directed the documentary about Ed, A Remarkable Man, and co-wrote with Ed the radio commentaries, Just a Little Common Sense. Ed’s video message, My Life is a Prayer, can be viewed here.