By JESSIE HORTON
STEPHENVILLE (January 25, 2016) — Over the weekend, Erath County lost a wonderful man and a true hero.
Brad Thompson, who passed away Saturday, January 23, was a proud life-long Erath County resident who once said his entire life was “a series of taking chances and watching them pay off.” I once had the opportunity to sit down with Thompson a few years ago. He told me about his wonderful life, his beautiful family and the chances he took that led him on many exciting adventures.
Born in 1923 to Wiley and Opal Thompson in Bunyan, Thompson lived through many of the county’s milestones including the Great Depression, a World War (the second which he fought in) and much more. He started school in Bunyan and grew up on the family’s farm there. But in 1937, he started to school in Stephenville when Bunyan schools consolidated with Stephenville ISD.
Shortly thereafter, he met Betty Watson, who, as he told it, stole his heart. They were married at 19 in 1943, but they hadn’t been married six months when Thompson was drafted into WWII. On his 20th birthday he was given orders to ship out to Europe. Spending the next two and a half years in the service, Thompson never once had the opportunity to return stateside until his time in the military was complete.
He was first stationed in England with the 8th Air Force, later spending time at bases in France and Germany before returning to England and then home to the United States. Thompson, with his two years experience working on aircraft from a previous job, was part of the team of soldiers who made the planes battle ready once they were at the base from America.
When Thompson returned from the war, he and Betty moved to Stephenville where they raised two sons – Tim and Tab. He once said they choose Stephenville because “it was a great little town with lots of potential,” and they were proud to be a part of it.
Thompson was a wonderful civic leader for the Stephenville community, founding many businesses that, in some form or another, are still big parts of the local economy.
He started Brad Thompson Insurance, which he operated for 42 years before selling it to Butch Frazier, who now operates the company. While selling insurance, Thompson also got into the loan business, creating Stephenville Savings and Loan – having branches in Hico, Granbury, Dublin, Gorman and Glen Rose, as well as Stephenville.
Later he would get into the Erath County real estate business, founding a real estate company with several friends. Thompson also had an art gallery on Belknap Street for a while, and continued to display many of those beautiful pieces in the Belknap offices of his storage building business even in recent years.
In addition to his many businesses, Thompson spent a large part of his adult life being involved in the Stephenville community in other ways.
He was a member of the American Legion for almost 70 years and served in all offices of the organization. Thompson was also a member of the Stephenville VFW and was honored to be associated with both the organizations.
Thompson spent a number of years on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors and one term as president of the chamber. While on the chamber, the organization started the Erath County Junior Livestock Show, an event that is still supported largely by the chamber.
Another organization that was dear to his heart was the Stephenville Industrial Foundation, which grew from four or five members at the first meeting to being responsible for the more than 1,800 industrial jobs in the community today.
He also served on the Stephenville ISD board of trustees for years, including three terms as president of the board. During that time, Thompson took a chance that turned out to be one of his proudest moments as far as his community service was concerned.
The school district was looking to build a new high school and couldn’t find any land to build on. Thompson was a one-man committee who spoke repeatedly to Lem Brock on behalf of the district. Brock owned all the land on what was then the edge of town and Thompson was able to talk him into giving the district half the land and selling them the rest at about half what it was worth. He called it “a proud moment of my community service.”
Thompson often said that he was proud to be a member of the Stephenville community and a lifelong resident of Erath County. And the community was more than lucky to call him ours. He played a large part in shaping the city of Stephenville and Erath County as its residents know it today.
Though we’ve lost him, Mr. Thompson will not soon be forgotten. We will always remember the hundreds of ways he made the community, and many individuals, so much better.
Now, his legacy lives on, not only in the many businesses, organizations and foundations he started, but also in the numerous lives he touched. Thompson’s family also lives on, representing he and Betty honorably in a number of ways in this community and others.
Thompson once told me that gradual growth like what has happened here in Stephenville was the very best thing for a small town like this. I contend without wonderful leaders like Thompson, the growth and the greatness we’ve enjoyed would not have come so easily.
“Even through the wars and the Depression, Stephenville has had good leaders, too many to name really, and it’s had a good economic base with all the industry, the agriculture and Tarleton,” he told me during that earlier mentioned conversation. “I’m just grateful to have been a part of it.”
No, Mr. Thompson, we are blessed to have been a part of your life and to have had you in ours. Thank you.