(This was a tribute that I gave at the memorial for our friend Allan Thompson. His mother asked me to share a few words. We miss you, Allan.)
A tribute is defined as an act, statement or gift that is intended to show gratitude, respect, or admiration.
Well that’s easy. I have known the Thompsons for over 30 years, and they are dear friends. My wife and I watched Allan and his sisters grow up since he was 8 years old, and from the beginning, he impressed me as one that is set apart.
One of my earliest memories of Allan was at our first house on Bretton Woods. Back then, the church culture of Calvary was that of a close-knit community. Really more like family than a church. We were always in each other’s business. In a good way. Kids would show up at our house randomly, and I never knew how many kids besides my own Julie would be watching when I got home from work. You all remember that? Anyway, I don’t recall why Allan was over, or who else was there, but I remember very clearly how he humbled me in basketball.
Now, we had a small house with a detached garage and a driveway, and there was no basketball net mounted on it. I went outside and found Allan dribbling a basketball and shooting at a backboard and net that didn’t exist. I came out to join him. I asked him what he was doing. He patiently explained that he was practicing jump shots. He asked me if I wanted to play. Sure, I said. Now I was 26 and he was 9. I was 6’ 3” and he was 3 foot nothing. I assumed a defensive posture, guarding the hoop that wasn’t there. He proceeded to dribble with his back toward me and I decided to take it easy, and let him get off a shot, which he took. He informed me that it was a perfect swish – nothing but net. Who was I to argue?
I then decided to make it tough on him and get the ball back. This was easier said than done. I pressed him and reached in. He backed off and went to take a jump shot – but he faked it. I went up and came down, and when I was down, he went up and made a clean shot. Of course, another swish on the net that was not there. He had totally pump faked me. I was surprised at his ability to pull that off, but was ready to tie it up. He repeated a variation on this pump fake theme at least a dozen times, and I fell for it at least a dozen times. I think I sank a few on the invisible net, but I got the feeling he was just letting me. That was my first introduction to the creative, intelligent, and hilarious person that was Allan Thompson.
I became a Royal Ranger Leader in 1989, but back then, it was called Calvary Crusaders. Allan was always a leader. He was smarter than the rest of us. He was also a great athlete. But he was kind of tough to corral. He wasn’t rebellious or defiant, he just had his own idea about how things were gonna go down. I would call on Allan for a response to a bible study question, and would get way more than I bargained for. The group would be laughing at him, and I would try to restore order. With varying degrees of success. He was always competent and capable.
I remember coming downstairs to the fellowship hall one night, and I heard someone playing a complicated introduction to the battle hymn of the republic. I nosed around to see who it was. There was Allan, playing it flawlessly. I asked how long he had been playing. He had just started. This was typical of him.
As Allan got older, he was continuously being recognized for his intellect and academic abilities. I knew Evelyn very well, and was impressed with her level of education and intelligence, and I knew of his father’s impressive education and accomplishments. I never doubted that Allan would succeed academically and professionally. He didn’t disappoint.
But his character is what began to impress me as he became a young man. When he graduated from high school, we had his graduation party at our house. It was a pleasure and we were happy to have it, but I had completely forgotten about it until about a month ago. I found a thank you note from him. He commented how kind we were to let all these people come over and trash our house so we could celebrate the day. I was struck by his maturity, and graciousness for such a small act. We treasure that letter now more than ever.
I saw another example of his heart of kindness when he went to Moody Bible School. He made many friends, some of whom reached out to me this week. But he would send money home to his mother as he studied at college. I have had 4 kids go through college – still waiting for my check. But there was something else he did that really impressed me. He wrote a song honoring his mother Evelyn. She proudly shared it with Julie and me. I am a musician, and I don’t impress easily. But Allan’s song, both in chord structure, lyrics, and performance blessed me, and blew me away. I asked to hear the song several times. He could have been a professional musician if he had chosen to do so.
Allan came to the wedding of my daughter Elisabeth. This was held up in Watertown, NY and we had family and friends from all over that travelled in for it. My family from Chicago came in. One of my brothers in law, Rob Michaels, is a lawyer in Chicago. He is intelligent and successful. He and Allan met and discussed their particular areas of expertise. They spoke for a long time. Later on, Rob came to me and told me how impressed he was with the particular type of law that Allan was practicing. He described it as the legal equivalent of 3D work with many moving pieces. Few could do what Allan could do professionally, but also what he did socially, and in his community.
My wife and I were in NYC this last October to celebrate my wife’s birthday. We asked Allan if we could see him. He was eager to meet with us and invited us to his apartment in Manhattan.
We hadn’t sat and talked in years, but we spent 5 hours in bright, spirited and hilarious conversation. Our discussion was almost 100% about religion and politics. Our conversation ranged over a wide spectrum of topics, which included the Hillsong church he attended in the city, the election, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Morning Joe, legal precedents, President Obama, the Detroit Lions, Jesus Christ, the end of the age, and the world to come, amen. It was a great time, and his opinions and analysis were refreshing, challenging, and affirming. We agreed about many things, and there were things we differed on, but it was all so engaging, I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my watch and saw how late it was.
I am sure Allan had other opportunities that morning than to spend it with a couple of 50 somethings from his past, but that was Allan. He was gracious, and giving. He gave us his time that day, and it is a gift we see know in its generosity.
There are many lessons we can glean from Allan’s life. Among these are his zeal for life, his drive to live fully, his generosity, his respect for his mother and sisters, his love for his son, and a diligence to be excellent at all he set his hand to.
Some lives are a long slow burn for many years, but Allan’s was more like a firework. An exceptional life that went up fast, soared high, lit the way for many, and then was gone.
I Thess. 4:13-18
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Tom Brennan, April 1 2017