Jack Thompson, educator and co-founder of Midcoast Senior College, is remembered by friends and colleagues as a man with a sharp mind who had tremendous vision.
Thompson passed way on March 6 at the age 90.
Mark Smith, former Midcoast Senior College board president and longtime friend of Thompson, said before Thompson left to spend the winter in Florida, the pair discussed courses for the college slated for this coming fall.
Smith met Thompson in 2003 while enrolled in a course about the Kennebec region that Thompson taught. Of the things Smith said he will remember most fondly of Thompson, his conversation, intellect and wonderful stories are the first things that come to mind.
The college was always something he was focused on, Smith said.
Thompson and his wife, Anne, made their home on the Kennebec River in Phippsburg in 1988, settling in the oldest brick house in Maine, known as Cold Spring Farm. Planning for the senior college began in 1999, and the following year, the plan was launched under the auspices of the University of Maine System.
“Jack’s vision was to have college-level courses with a liberal arts focus that were challenging and interesting,” Smith said.
With Thompson’s leadership, the Midcoast Senior College became an independent institution in 2009, offering the college more autonomy to hire teachers and offer courses. Enrollment in the college is growing, and Smith attributes the interest to the need for adult education in the area, the amount of retirees settled here and Thompson’s high standards set for the caliber of professors and courses associated with the college.
The college operates out of the Southern New Hampshire University campus in Brunswick, and also holds classes at Thorton Oaks, Sunnybrook and The Highlands retirement communities to promote access to educational opportunities.
Thompson taught for nearly seven decades. At the collegiate level, he was a professor of modern Russian history at the University of Indiana and taught military history at the Air Force Academy. In a separate career, he worked for the State Department, serving at the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia. He traveled extensively, and lived in Russia for a period of time, working as a researcher, according to a biography posted on the college’s website.
“He was a popular teacher, he could teach anything and the class would be filled,” Smith said.
Howard Whitcomb met Thompson in the early days of Midcoast Senior College, and the pair co-taught courses on elections, and also attended each other’s lectures on their own expertise. Whitcomb said he and Thompson had shared interests in political science and history.
“He was an extraordinary person. He had a wonderful sense of humor and a spark unlike most people you encounter, and that manifested itself in so many respects,” Whitcomb said of his friend. “You don’t often think of having an academic mentor in retirement, but that’s what I considered him to be. It was a very special relationship.”
Red Sox fan
Apart from academic interests, Whitcomb said he and Thompson were both avid Boston Red Sox fans, and that hardly a conversation went on between them that did not involve the team’s prospects.
“I know he was looking forward to the coming season,” Whitcomb said.
Anthony Belmont, president of Midcoast Senior College, said in an announcement of Thompson’s death, “He was a noble man, conscientious and with strong convictions. He leaves big shoes and will be missed.”