No Ordinary Father

I’ve been thinking about my Dad (Rev. Alfred C Thompson) a lot lately. Mostly I keep thinking of asking his advice on things but of course I can’t do that anymore. As I thought about him this morning I decided to post the notes for the talk I gave at his memorial service.


My Dad was a man of many hats; many roles in life. He used to tell me that many people knew about some of his hats, a few people know of many of his hats but only very few knew about all of them. Over the last few years Dad filled me in on history I hadn’t previously known. I thought today I would share some of this with you.

My Dad was first a son. The second child of immigrants from Norway his first language was Norwegian. He learned English through immersion when he started public school. Many people don’t know that he took a two year hiatus from college to help take care of his mother who was in poor health. Others who know that he served in the Navy for three years of World War II don’t know that his first war related service was working for the Norwegian government in exile in New York. A service that included recording messages in Norwegian for broadcast to occupied Norway.

He did join the Navy once he was old enough. There he drove landing craft delivering soldiers and Marines to the beach for seven different island invasions in the war in the Pacific. One medal he was particularly proud of was the Philippine Liberation medal which was awarded by the government of the Philippines. It seems like he was constantly running into nurses from the Philippines and they always got to hear about that medal.

After the war he spent some time crewing sailing yachts but eventually settled down enough to attend Taylor University. At Taylor he not only got a great education but met my mother, Louise Penner. After getting married and graduation the plan was for Dad to get a degree in theology before heading for a career teaching Philosophy. That plan was cut short by my impending arrival. So Dad became a part-time pastor of the East Hampton Methodist church and worked on his degree part-time. My parents were to have two more children before the family moved to Brooklyn where the last of four children was born.

After a long illness my mother passed away leaving my Dad to raise four children alone. When I tell people that my Dad was no ordinary father they often assume that I mean because single fathers were rare in those days but that is only a small part of it. Ordinary fathers send their children to summer camp. My Dad sent the whole neighborhood to summer camp. For two weeks every summer the neighborhood was quiet as literally dozens of kids went to the Adirondacks to attend Word of Life camps. Many of these children, including myself, started their serious Christian lives at that camp. Dad raised money from civic organizations all year long to help pay for camp fees and transportation.

Also during the years in Brooklyn my Dad joined the Navy Reserve as a chaplain. There he eventually rose to the rank of Captain and only age forced retirement kept him from making admiral according to the Navy’s chief of chaplains. Dad’s other chaplain ministry was to the New York City Fire Department.

Dad’s day was a 24 hour 7 day a week affair. At any time of the day or night the phone might ring or a knock on the door would indicate someone in need of help. I’ll never forget one night around 11 answering the door to see a fireman in uniform who asked “is the chaplain available?” And he was. At any time to anyone who needed him.

Dad took over a hospital once. He was appointed by a bankruptcy judge to take over as the administrator of a hospital in Chapter 11. A year and a half later the hospital was in the black and a permanent administrator took over. And oh yes he kept up a full load of work as the pastor of a church as well as his Navy and Fire Department responsibilities. I’m not sure he slept. At least most of us kids had mostly grown up by then. We’re still only mostly grown up by the way.

In his 60s Dad started to retire to enjoy life with his second wife, Sheila who he had supported and encouraged as she pursued her own ordination in the Method Church. First the Navy and then the full-time pastorate. He was still holding on to his role at fire chaplain when buildings came down on September 11th 2001. One night he slept in his truck a block away from the scene. He stayed at ground zero for six weeks before pneumonia forced him first to the hospital and then home. He ministered to fire fighters, rescue workers, families and helped train and prepare volunteer clergy who came from around the country to help. Having seen so much in the war and during his time as fire chaplain as well as having gone through losing two wives of his own he was uniquely qualified for this capstone event of his career.

After this Dad’s health gradually declined but for years he was active as a guest preacher in many churches. One of his great joys was participating in the weddings of several of his grandchildren. The last wedding he performed was my son and daughter in law’s wedding two years ago. And he loved it.

Father, Pastor, Fire Chaplain, Navy Chaplain, American Legion Chaplain and more. But in all things he was first and foremost a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that is what made everything else possible.

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