Recently, I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend of 30 years, William Penn Thompson Jr., “Bill,” as he preferred to be called, was one of the most inspiring, interesting and compassionate people I have met during my lifetime thus far.
I first met Bill as a fellow member of The Macon Health Club. As was the daily practice, members of MHC engaged in conversations that including political, societal and worldly subject matter. As one might expect, Bill and I engaged in numerous exchanges and thusly my appreciation and respect for him grew. Bill was locally and nationally known for his philanthropic pursuits which he pursued with passion.
He was a passionate believer in providing the opportunity for a quality education to every child in this community. He would always say to me that he wanted every child to have access to a computer and that he was willing to provide his considerable resources to achieve that goal.
Furthermore, Bill was obsessed with the idea that every child should have a strong math and science background and that tutors should be provided, if necessary, to achieve that goal. Again, Bill expressed a desire to devote his resources to help achieve this goal.
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While he was not successful in working out a workable agreement with the Bibb Board of Education, he never stopped trying to find a workable solution. It was almost as if he believed that eventually people would do the right thing for our children. You see, Bill believed in the good in everyone.
To say that he was always a step ahead of most people, would be an understatement because in many ways Bill was visionary.
For example, early in 2007, while at the MHC getting ready to work out, Bill approached me and handed me an envelope with a name in the upper left corner. When Bill handed me the envelope he asked, “do you know this young fellow?” I looked at the name and said, “no Bill I do not know him, so who is he?” Bill responded, “he is a young fellow from Chicago who is running for president and he is smart with fresh new ideas and I am seriously considering sending him some money because I think he can win and that would be good for this country.”
I looked at the name on the envelope again and quipped, “Bill, I do not see how a person with the name Barack Hussein Obama could ever win the presidency given the current mood of the country.” Bill asked me to research Barack and let him know later what I thought of him. I did the research and as Bill suggested my opinion of Barack changed.
One of the many outstanding qualities that Bill always exhibited was humility.
To that end, while initially knowing Bill for about eight years, I was completely unaware of his national and international reputation as an architect. One morning while reading The Telegraph I saw a front-page article with a picture of Bill superimposed over a picture of Atlanta’s skyscrapers.
During my next visit to MHC while conversing with Bill, I brought up the article and asked him why he never said anything about his fame as an architect? Bill’s response was concise when he said, “it wasn’t important.”
At the end of each day, the evening news reminds us of what divides us, i.e. race wars, politics, shootings etc. But having Bill as my friend reminded me that when social/economic lines are blurred, one person can make a huge difference in the world. For that, I will miss you Bill.
Leroy Mack is a resident of Macon.