Tommy Thompson and I first met in May of 1964. Five months prior to this meeting God saved me while I was in the Air Force in New Mexico. Knowing nothing of New Testament principles I asked the Lord for guidance. Two weeks later I was surprised with orders transferring me to Alaska, and somehow I knew this was an answer to my prayer. I arrived in Alaska on May 15, 1964, and almost immediately met two airmen who were in the local assembly. I went along to a gospel meeting shared by Tommy, and the clarity of the preaching was the Lord’s indication to me that my prayer was answered.
For 56 years, I knew Tommy as one who was consistent and a man of the Word. He often said, “It’s not important what I think, but what the Scriptures say.” His ministry would give us an appetite for more. His work among the Athabascan Indians and other native folk was remarkable in its simplicity and clarity, and quite a number of natives were reached for Christ and gathered out. Whenever possible, he would visit door-to-door even though on two occasions a gun was drawn on him.
Alaska is a difficult land for the gospel, although there are many churches of every flavor. The transient nature of the place also made his work difficult. His first wife, Sadie, and now Marjorie, have both proven to be of tremendous help in the work of the Lord. It was always a joy and quite refreshing to visit in their homes. His Irish wit and humor would entertain, or if help or counsel were needed, it would be faithfully given. One was always glad they had visited the Thompson home.
One aspect of Tommy’s ministry was his hospital visitation, which some often overlook. Bev Sullivan, a local nurse, and others, would tell Tommy of patients who would accept a visit. On numerous occasions dear souls, while on their death bed, would pass from death unto life and shortly thereafter slip into the presence of the Lord. In the early years he had a Sunday school in the Alaska Native Services Hospital in Anchorage, and down through the years on numerous occasions someone would approach him and say, “Hi, Uncle Tommy, remember me? I got saved when you were in our village.” Or, “Hi, Uncle Tommy, I got saved in the hospital.” There were quite a number saved and Tommy would remember most of them.
On the occasions when he left Alaska for a season in Ireland or South Africa, his care for the assembly in Alaska was evident in his many letters. On one occasion, a dear brother in the Anchorage assembly was discouraged and had planned to leave the assembly. Tommy did not know of this man’s intention, but before leaving for South Africa, he visited him, encouraging him and telling him not to leave the assembly after he left. This so encouraged the brother, that today, well over 30 years later at 88 years of age, he is still with us and a tremendous encouragement and help to all the saints.
Tommy and I shared a couple of gospel series and also many meetings; he proved always to be a gentleman. If correction were needed it would be gentle, kindly given, and preceded by praise if possible, especially to young believers. He did indeed have the tenacity of a bulldog and would always defend what he felt was right, often taking the side of the underdog with sometimes great cost to himself, even toward the end when health was failing.
Alaska’s weather is a bit challenging at times, especially in Chitina where he first labored. Anchorage’s climate is more moderate because of the waters of Cook Inlet, but seven years ago we received a late winter snowstorm with 36 inches of snow falling on a Saturday night. On Sunday morning, Tommy was convinced we could still make it to the hall, and would have shoveled us all out if he had been able. Such was his enjoyment of the weekly remembrance meeting.
The two assemblies in Alaska will greatly miss his energy, counsel, ministry, humor, compassion, and friendship. He would help guide, but not control, the internal affairs of the local assembly. Many at the large funeral considered him a father and others gladly called him brother.
We will remember Tommy for his love for souls and his deep appreciation for his own salvation. He would go back in memory every morning to the very place in Belfast, Northern Ireland where God reached and saved him on January 14, 1947.
We will remember him because of his love for the saints of God and his practical care for them. He was a very generous person, and anyone with a real need had a friend in Tommy whether in the assembly or not. We will remember him because he considered the assembly saints his family. Most of all, we will remember him for his love for God, and his ability to share God’s Word publicly or one-on-one.
Our brother went home to be with the Lord on August 16, 2010.