How Jim Thompson changed my life

https://ift.tt/31uf2F5

Not everyone can remember the moment their life changed and where they were when it happened. But I can.

It was a steamy Sunday afternoon in August 1981 at the Illinois State Fair, and I was a week from finishing an internship in Gov. Jim Thompson’s press office.

The Governor, who loved the State Fair, was stopping at exhibitor booths, saying hello to vendors and visitors, and taking his daughter on carnival rides as he made his way around the sprawling fairgrounds.

The regular press office staff had the day off. As the short-term kid on the team, I had media duties for what should be a slow news day. At one point, Thompson peered down at me.

"Prescott," he said with a smile, "what are you doing with the rest of your life?"

"Uh, well," I stammered, "I start a master’s in journalism program in a few weeks after my internship ends."

"You could do that," he said.

He paused, smiled again, and said the words that would change the direction of my life: "Or you could talk to me tomorrow."

The conversation the next day was brief because when Big Jim asked you to work for him full-time, the answer was yes.

But that change of plans gave me the opportunity to work for and with the longest-serving governor in Illinois history, who died on Aug. 14 at age 84.

The Governor had a strong connection to Oak Park. Jayne Thompson, his wife, is an OPRF High School graduate, and his parents lived in Oak Park when he was in office. I was born and still live in Oak Park and my wife, Sally, and I raised our five children here.

When I got word of his death early the morning after he died and a request from Mrs. Thompson to handle media duties for her and the family, the memories of working for him and the experiences that shaped my life came flooding back:

How he never demonized the other side and was always willing to take a call and make a call to move Illinois forward.

How he will be remembered for keeping the White Sox in Chicago, Navy Pier, roads and bridges and buildings across the 102 counties in Illinois.

How his lasting legacy will be the hundreds of people who worked for him.

How he was the best at the three parts of being governor: politics, process and policy.

How he loved parades and worked them from curb to curb. And then backward. Then did it again. No walking and waving from the yellow stripe or riding in a convertible.

I didn’t know it that afternoon at the State Fair, but working for Gov. Thompson was an opportunity to see firsthand what set him apart from governors who served before him and those who followed. It also explains why the tributes that came from both sides of the political aisle were genuine and full of respect.

It’s fitting and accurate that another Oak Parker, Senate President Don Harmon, said in his statement, "No one enjoyed being governor more than Jim Thompson."

True.

Here’s to you, JRT. 

Thank you for the opportunity of a lifetime. is an Oak Park-based public affairs consultant who worked for Gov. Jim Thompson from 1981 to 1988.

Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and OakPark.com. We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we’re asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we’re giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We’re now a non-profit — Growing Community Media — so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We’re counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

26-Delivered

via OakPark.com

August 26, 2020 at 03:29PM

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s