Tributes to Tommy Thompson
from his friends and fans
Letters sent to Tommy Thompson and pictures and postcards on the walls of his room. "Kudzu" cartoonist Doug Marlette drew the caricature of Tommy used for the background.
    You folks are in my mind and prayers and I carry you in my heart wherever I go. Tommy has been a great inspiration to me as well as a wonderful friend. 
Tony (Ellis) 

John Haber - Jim Belushi - Jack Herrick
John Haber gave Tommy this picture taken in preparation for Lone Star Love (The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Texas), coauthored by Tommy, Jack, and John.  It was on the wall in his room at Britthaven.
Dear Jessie- 

I hope all's well with you.  Just wanted to say that my thoughts are on Tommy right now and with your family. 

It's a good day to celebrate his great life and spirit on the occasion of his 65th birthday. 

God bless and love, 

John Haber 

Dear Tommy,
     It is my extreme honor to write this note to you. In a profound way I feel a part of your life. Let me explain.
     We met for the first time in November, 1976. I was a college student at West Virginia University and booked the "Red Clay Ramblers" as part of our Mountaineer Week festivities.
     We met several times over the years, mostly at the "Cat's Cradle". I was there the first night Clay replaced Bill, before the African tour.
     However, that is not what I want to say.
     I was part of a trio in Raleigh during the 80's called "Twisted Laurel". I play a great autoharp, clawhammer banjo and sing. To this day I sing the song "Twisted Laurel" all the time. It is the most beautiful of all songs. I am sure growing up in Charleston, West Virginia has something to do with it. My joy comes though when people hear it. The depth, the passion, the joy and sadness are there in the words. It is a musical tapestry. You paint a Mona Lisa in rhythm and rhyme! I feel this is the work of a genius, and I am so happy to be able to say that to you.
     Do you realize how much you have touched so many hearts?  Do you realize what an important person you are in American Folk music?  I surely hope you do.
     Speaking from just one 47 year old man, you are, and always will be my musical hero. "And the dark water springs from the black rocks and flows, out of sight where the Twisted Laurel grows"
Michael Barker

Dear Jesse, 
     Seventeen years ago, I took my then six year old son to the Stockbridge Methodist Church in Kalamazoo to see the Red Clay Ramblers. The gym at the church was packed and we were a little late and seats were scarce. I noticed that there were seats placed in a U shape along the edges of the stage and hoping they weren't saved  we ran up and dropped into two in the front row. Just in time as the boys were taking the stage. I had met your Dad twice when I was a student at Western Michigan University in 1969 when he was in The New Academic String Band. He would bring his banjo and sit with anyone who wanted to stay and play and talk after the show. 
     The show that night was wonderful and my son was thrilled. He'd jump to his feet at the end of every number and clap and yell and tell me " Whistle, Dad." During some of the numbers when Tommy didn't have much to do I caught him and my son playing peek at each other, but the real show stopper for Aaron came when the guys all put on some sort of headgear. Tommy had an Arab looking thing, and played some exotic music while Jack was juggling, and Tommy played a small triangle and recited Jonathon Greenleaf Whittier's "When the Frost is on the Punkin."  The stage was a mad house, and the audience loved it.  I looked next to me and Aaron was standing on his chair clapping and cheering. He fell asleep leaning against me just before the show ended and after the last song I picked him up and carried him out to the car. He's now a graduate of the University of Michigan and is a circus instructor at Club Med at Port St. Lucy, Florida. The whole family is still RCR fans and see them whenever we can but, my, how we miss your Dad.
Affectionately-- Tom Morse and Family

Dixie Darling
--a fan's pet named after Tommy's Carter Family song.
Dear Ms. Eustice:
     I stumbled across the RCR site through a reference in one of the forum entries in The Mudcat Cafe this morning, and I was especially excited to find it, as I have been searching for news about Tommy ever since I heard on a public radio program nearly three years ago that Tommy had left the Ramblers and was suffering from Alzheimer's.
     Tommy and I go back thirty or more years. As fellow banjoists, we have spent many hours around many campfires at music festivals and a couplef Birmingham clubs. We spent a great deal of time with the Ramblers at Horse Pens 40, near Gadsden, Alabama, back in the late 'seventies and early 'eighties, picking old time songs and sailing a frisbee across overgrown parking lots on top of Chandler Mountain, where the Horse Pens Festival was held.
     Tommy has always been a special person to me, as I admired his expertise on the five-string as well as his devotion to old-time music. I have been a Professor of English in Alabama for nearly forty years, and as I look toward retirement, I think more and more often about those great days when we sat around and swapped tales of the road with the Ramblers.
     I have been approached by a local theatre group and invited to perform a one-man show for them in the upcoming season. I thought immediately of "The Last Song of John Proffit," but I had not until today been able to find where I might obtain a copy. I would very much appreciate your letting me know the name and address of the publisher, so that I might obtain a copy for perusal. I saw an Alabama Public Television broadcast of Tommy performing the play at the Stage Door in Birmingham many years ago, but I can't remember many details about the play.
     Your letters are well-written and touching--especially to those of us who remember the sensitive and ebullient Tommy Thompson of the Horse Pens days. I shall visit your site frequently to keep up with you and your father. My prayers and best wishes go with you, and I look forward to hearing from you when you have the opportunity to write.
Bill Foster

     I'm an old friend of Tommy's and Bland's, especially.  I really sort of stumbled on the Web site and your letters about your dad and was grateful to receive the news.  Just wanted to send my very best and let you know that my thoughts and prayers are with you, Tommy, and your family.
     Please give Tommy my best, tell him that some of us Kenyon folks (I went there some years after he did) are thinking of him, and let him know that "Hot Buttered Rum" goes through my mind, happily, about as much as any other tune I know.
Best wishes,
Murray Horwitz

A Graceland postcard for Tommy's birthday
from from Sarah, the young lady who helped
him learn his lines for the St. Louis production
of his play The Last Song of JohnProffit.
Dear Jesse and Tommy,
     I had the great privilege of being at the Cat's Cradle in 1979 when this awesome album Chuckin' the Frizz was recorded live.  It was one of the greatest nights of my life and introduced me to a band that I have loved ever since.  Tommy's distinctive voice and lively banter helped to make the group irresistible.
     But I wanted to let Tommy know that I was thrilled to have been a part of that great night, and I'll never forget the wonder of hearing the Red Clay Ramblers for the first time.  All of your fans love you very much.
God bless you.
Donna Sawyer

"Give me the roses while I live
Flowers to cheer me on.
Useless are flowers that you give
After the soul is gone."
     There's a sense in which Tommy has indeed gone ahead, the keen, measured intellect leaving behind random traces of its functioning. There's a sense in which we are the ones left behind with the roses, the fragrance of his life still here for us. I hope he enjoyed the flowers, the applause of his fans, the praise of his colleagues, the camaraderie of the Ramblers. The love of his daughter, who has stayed constant to him in his trials and tribulations.
     In some sense, he is still with us, the memories of the music, the talk, the warm kindness he displayed to strangers (I can bear testimonial to that), the very special presence of his thoughtfulness to others. In that sense, Tommy Thompson will be with us long after other people have passed on.
    But clearly there's a letting go which has already begun, in sadness and in love for him. The last few years have been hard for him, Jessie -- as if I'm telling you something that you don't already know. Here in the Poconos, my wife and I have worked with Altzheimers patients in a nearby Agency for the Aging, where we've seen how the lapses and the recoveries, the intermittent knowledge of what has been lost, have made life so confusing and painful for people helpless to prevent themselves from falling once again into the dark places from which their brief respites have not only not saved them, but may have heightened the dreadfulness of their situations -- in the words of the Scottish poet Robert Ferguson, "Like moonlight on a troubled sea,/Lighting the storm it cannot calm."
     So perhaps it's a kindness and a relief, in a profoundly sad sense, that this time has passed now, and the hope that he would recover and become once more the laughing man-child that he once was -- the happy companion, the cheerful friend -- is being let go, gently and lovingly. Speaking only as someone who was only privileged to know Tommy from a distance, over these years, but who was more privileged to witness the loving care you've given him all this time, I don't know if I can add anything to the tribute and memories you've been so sweet and kind as to forward, except my thanks to you for your generosity in spirit.
     Oh Jessie. I believe there is a God, and he is weeping thankful tears over your love for your father. May He bless and keep you for this sweetness. You and your family are in my prayers tonight.
John McLaughlin

Lindbergh Lake, Montana - a postcard from Cindy and all his friends at Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem, PA

     I first saw the Red Clay Ramblers in the late 70's over at Godfrey Daniels coffee house in Bethlehem,Pa. and they absolutly flipped me out. A few years later I was priviledged to see Tommy's one man play "...John Proffit" 
     I just wanted to pay my respects to Tommy and thank him for the pleasures he has sang and played my way. I'll remember him in my prayers. Thanks Tommy.
Dave Hochella

     Your father was the presenter for the first The Folk Heritage Awards ceremony back in 1989.  This year six traditional artists will receive lifetime achievement awards.
Wayne Martin

     I don't know if you remember me or not. We graduated from Fletcher together. I saw you at our 40th reunion, and last night at our 45th, Harley put out a small book that had a piece on you. I knew you were sick, but I didn't know just how bad till I read it. I hope this short note will cheer you up, and I wanted to let you know that we are thinking about you and wishing you well.
John Hughes


0, the wind and the rain
will not quit you as you burn
your last acts in the saga 
you composed, verse by verse,
year by year, with your strings 
and mind finely wrought, instruments
as costly as diamonds. 

Survival's the name of the game you learned
as West Virginia trains pulled off,
leaving you and your father at bay.
Your music rang for the crowd,
wayfarers, timeless strangers
who recognized your stand
as you sang,
mercifully grand.

Now you lay low, 
creature of dignity and poise
but your voice still presides 
over lands unknown and mazed.
When you wake from these dreams
may you find your self upright, 
banjo on knee; may what you see 
be as great as a prophet's gaze
threading through the clouds,
spangling every, haze. 

Poem written for Tommy by Roseann
Coggshall, submitted by Susan Ketchin
Happy New Year from Patrick Couton in France.
He named his son Thomas.

Dear Jesse,

This is a small note to let you know how much your Dad has touched me and many like me all over the world. I knew Tommy during the late 70s when he and the band travelled north to play Canadian folk festivals.

As a volunteer I took care of 'performer hospitality' at the Winnipeg Folk Festival - basically making sure that things worked for the artists so that all they had to worry about was actually playing the music. And play the Ramblers did! They were delightful, inventive, intelligent, wonderfully humorous and just plain bang-up fun. The music was amazing. Still is.

Because I worked with them during the festivals, I had the extra pleasure of knowing briefly the guys behind the music. I remember Tommy well. You could hardly miss him. He was funny, perceptive and intelligent. And kind. He once sat and talked with me about God knows what for about an hour at 4 o'clock in the morning, helping me stay awake long enough to get some other musician onto a 5:30 plane. I never did get to sleep that night.

My best wishes to you in this difficult time. For however much it helps, Tommy's joy and creativity remain vibrant in his music, and in the fond memories of people like me whom he touched over the years.

Thank you. And thank Tommy,

Judy McGuire
Vancouver, Canada

Dear Jesse,

I'm an old fan of Tommy's, and I just found out about his health decline of the past few years.  I live in the hills of northwest Arkansas, busy raising a family and playing with our friends and trying to do good work in my community, and I haven't been keeping up with all of my favorite bands, a list which definitely includes the Red Clay Ramblers.  I think I always liked the band more for Tommy's writing and singing than any other reason.  I even got his autograph at a show at J.T.s Station Inn in Nashville in 1986.

I got a record player for Christmas last year, and I've been unearthing my old vinyl records lately.  I played some Ramblers and got to wondering about what the band members were doing these days.  Eventually I wandered to the web site, and I was heartbroken to find out about your dad.  All I can say is that I hope you can help him understand that there are people like me all over the world who love him because of both the joy and sadness he conveyed to us in his songs.  The humanity he expressed helped to make me a better person than I could have been in a world without Tommy.

I'm very glad to see what a loving, nurturing daughter you have been to your father.  I hope I am able to raise my daughters to be as strong and compassionate as you have become.

The prayers, love, and best wishes of my family to yours,
Kevin Santos

Hi Jesse,
     I have been an admirer of your father's music for many years--ever since I laughed out loud at "The Merchants Lunch," and felt my heart melt when I heard "Where the Twisted Laurel Grows."  The latter, by the way, is a favorite of several West Virginia musicians I know.  An all women's band called Mountain Thyme does it, and my friend and singing companion, Will Fanning, sings it.  I loved the Red Clay Ramblers and Tommy Thompson before I knew he had St. Albans roots.  I've never talked to anyone who knew very much about his West Virginia heritage, though; my friend Alan Jabbour knew him beginning in North Carolina when Alan was a student at Duke and playing music with Tommy.  But obviously Tommy knew quite a bit about the soul of West Virginia.
     I'm a singer.  I sing a cappella, mostly old-time gospel, with my husband Bill and Will Fanning.  We call ourselves Soup Kitchen, although we've been known for several years as The Missing Person Soup Kitchen Gospel Quartet. (Inspired by the RCR, one of the first songs we ever learned was "Daniel Prayed."  It's on our first and only CD so far, "Stirring It Up.")
     I also do some freelance writing from time to time, and I make my living doing media relations and some tourism development consulting. I've done a couple of pieces and had need for more information about Tommy and the RCR, but was short on time so had to sacrifice some detail for want of reliable sources.
     I brought Alan Jabbour to Charleston in March, 1999 under the auspices of Friends of Old Time Music & Dance (FOOTMAD) Your dad and the RCR performed here in Charleston through FOOTMAD in the mid 80s.  I've known Alan since the mid 70s.  His appearance was the first lecture-performance FOOTMAD had ever sponsored.  It was a great success, both in terms of attendance and stretching the idea of what FOOTMAD does.
     I don't think very many people know about Tommy's WV roots, and probably lots of people don't know much about Tommy at all, except they may know the Red Clay Ramblers.  As you have probably noticed, though, West Virginians are a fiercely proud lot, and we have so much to be proud of in Tommy Thompson, so it occurred to me that we--through FOOTMAD--should do something. What, I'm not entirely sure.  But an idea may come to me.
      One thing I could do is to start learning more about Tommy's body of work, and who has performed it.  And more about his biography in general. My husband is president of FOOTMAD, so every now and then I have his ear.
     God bless you and strengthen you in these days of caring for your father.
Rebecca Kimmons
There's more! 
Tributes Page 2 "Hot Buttered Rum"

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Besides Tommy's section of the site, the following pages are also related to Jessie and Tommy:
Jessie's Letters - her journey with Tommy's illness and latest updates
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jessie and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jessie's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community


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July 23, 2002