May 1, 2018

Sunrise, sunset…

The next day or two were taken up with business: trips to the attorney, calls to insurance agents, dealing with the bank. I had a more personal task as well, writing Tommy’s obituary. The funeral home had offered to do it but I wasn’t going to let anyone else try to summarize this wonderfully complex man so I sat down and this is what I came up with.

Tommy, as he was known to everyone but the IRS and various lawyers, lost his courageous battle with severe and sudden onset cardiac disease on Saturday, April 28th 2018 at the age of 53. Up until his recent illness, he had continued to function in his myriad of roles as a fixture of the Birmingham performing arts scene including being the Company Manger of Opera Birmingham; wig, hair and make-up designer for Red Mountain Theatre Company; Children’s Choir director for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham; and running his own private studio in voice, piano and hair and makeup design. Tommy was born April 10th 1965 in Birmingham to Louie Tommy Thompson Sr. and Melvinia Dye Thompson. From a young age, he was captivated by music, making his operatic debut as the boy shepherd in Tosca at the age of 10 and singing for years with the Birmingham Boys Choir. In his teens, he was a member of the Summerfest ensemble and attended the University of Alabama Birmingham on, of all things, a track scholarship, where he majored in music, playing the flute in the Million Dollar Band and the oboe in the symphonic ensembles. After leaving UA, he showed his knack of picking up and mastering a wide variety of skill sets whenever something happened to pique his interest. He worked as a research assistant in linguistics. He obtained a culinary degree and worked as a professional chef and baker for such disparate employers as Continental Bakery, the Hilton, the Sheraton and Ralph and Kacoos. He even for a time helped run his own family restaurant. He enjoyed cooking, especially for other people, for the rest of his life and his cast parties and holiday open houses are legendary. When he got tired of restaurant hours, he went back to school and obtained his RN. His experiences in the early days of the HIV epidemic in Birmingham where he was helpful in the creation of such organizations as Birmingham AIDS Outreach and AIDS Alabama had wakened a life long need to help people in times of health crisis. After a stint as a pediatric nurse, he joined the staff of what was to become Birmingham Health Care, rising through the ranks to Chief Nursing Officer by the time he left the organization in 2005. Once again, it was time for self-reinvention and he returned to college in his 40s where he earned double degrees in music education and speech pathology from the University of Montevallo proving that it was indeed possible to teach this old dog a new trick or two. For the rest of his life, he took all of his inquisitiveness, his managerial skill, and his sheer love of the job well done to help better the condition of the performing arts in Birmingham. He spent countless hours in rehearsals, sang for many seasons with both the Opera Birmingham and the Alabama Symphony Orchestra choruses, stage managed, produced, performed in musicals, cabaret, and even the occasional play, and everywhere he went, encouraged his fellow performers and technicians to always improve their craft. Along the way, he picked up new skills in hair and makeup, helping give a more professional look to such shows as Annie Get Your Gun at Virginia Samford Theater, and The Little Mermaid and The Color Purple at Red Mountain Theatre Company. He even helped a few friends unleash their inner drag queen. He is survived by his husband and partner in musical/theatrical crime, Andrew Duxbury; his parents, Louie and Melvinia Thompson, his brother Pat Alan Thompson and wife Robbi, nieces Brooke Thompson Hedrick (Daniel) and Ashley Thompson Hubbard (Jeffrey), aunts, uncles, cousins, great nieces and nephews, and his huge extended Bohemian Birmingham family for whom he was a fixture both off stage and on. There will be a memorial service celebrating his life under the auspices of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham at a date to be announced later. In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to either the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham’s Children’s Music program or to Opera Birmingham. The best way to celebrate his legacy, however, is by teaching your children to sing.

It could have been twice as long, of course, but the Birmingham News are not overly generous with their column inches. (They must be making most of their profit off the obituary page these days). I finished this up, packed a suitcase, locked up the house, and headed for the beach for a few days to just stare at the waves and try not to think too much.

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