Byron Thompson and his late wife Jeanne were extremely blessed. They had a good marriage, 11 children, and Byron was very successful in business, first working at United Missouri Bank (now UMB) and later founding and running Country Club Bank, which has grown to 20 branches in Kansas and Missouri.
They also had (and Byron still has) a beautiful brick and stone house — with tennis court — on the south edge of Loose Park.
For years, at least from arm’s length, the Thompsons were the perfect family, with about all the comforts and privileges that anyone could want or need.
But, as we all know, there are no guarantees that any really good situation is going to last indefinitely. Every day, every hour, presents risks for all of us, and only the luckiest among us evade tragedy. And even if we do, we all experience pain in the course of our lives.
The Thompsons? Well, as fate would have it, tragedy and pain came by the bucket load.
First, on Halloween night in 1986, daughter Amy, who was in her 20s, was shot in the neck during a bizarre robbery attempt in which the robber got into the back seat of a car in which Amy and some other young people were sitting. Chaos broke out in the car, and the robber — a young kid, as I recall — fired a shot that struck Amy, sitting in the driver’s seat, in the neck.
That occurred in either the 5000 or 5100 block of either Baltimore or Wyandotte, just a few blocks west of the house where Patty and I were living, 5103 Grand. The incident shocked the neighborhood; it shocked Visitation Parish, where the Thompsons were members and where their kids attended grade school; and it shocked much of Kansas City.
The gunshot inflicted severe neurological damage and left Amy wheelchair bound and with limited ability to communicate.
…Anyone who was a member of Visitation in the 80s, including me, knew or knew of the Thompson family. I did not meet Amy before the shooting, but I vividly recall seeing her one evening at the old Milgram store at 50th and Main. I was leaving the store and she was coming in with a couple of other girls. My attention immediately fixed on Amy because she was tall, gorgeous and speaking and gesturing with eyes ablaze with animation and enthusiasm. That scene stuck with me because it represented a captivating moment frozen in time.
After the shooting, Amy lived on for about three years. But then, in 1989, she died…died, as I understand it, choking on her own mucous because the gunshot had robbed her of her coughing reflex.
That would have been more than enough pain and tragedy for the Thompson family. But, unfortunately, there was much more.
On Feb. 21, 1989 — 10 months before Amy died — another of the Thompson children, 22-year-old Tricia, suffered irreparable brain damage when a drunk driver plowed into the side of the car where Tricia was a passenger. Her head banged against a solid part of the interior, maybe the window frame or perhaps the window itself.
Tricia was in a coma for a year, and for the following 25 years she was “unable to talk, walk, eat or act in any way on her own behalf.”
The words inside those quotes came from Tricia’s obituary, which appeared Saturday in The Star. She died last Wednesday at age 48, having been able to actually go about living less than half her life.
In 2003, Jeanne Thompson, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, died after a medical procedure. (Byron later married Visitation widow named Joan McGee, whose husband had been a principal in the Old American Insurance Co., which in 1991 became part of Kansas City Life Insurance Co.)
The rest of the Thompsons, including Byron, have carried on resolutely and, I might add, prosperously. Byron, I’m pretty sure, still goes to work, at the bank’s corporate headquarters, Ward Parkway and Main. It appears from the bank’s website that four of the remaining nine children — Mary O’Connor and Paul, Mark and Tim Thompson — are bank executives.
But you don’t measure this family’s success by money or business prominence. You measure it by how they have endured and dealt with the incredible pain and tragedy that they have carried with them every day the last 28-plus years, since Halloween 1986.
Let me quote a few passages — from Tricia’s obit and from an article in today’s Kansas City Star — that illustrate how the family has continued pushing through its grief.
From the obit:
“Words cannot express our gratitude for the care provided Tricia by many while in her most compromised state. The love shown to the part of Tricia that remained earthbound, in a shell that so diminished her for these many years, made this time as bearable and pleasant for her as possible.”
Mary O’Connor in today’s KC Star story:
“There is an old line: The things you spend your time worrying about are not the things that end up turning your world upside down.”
Byron Thompson, from the Star article:
“…I am a very blessed man because of my family. All the injuries didn’t bring them together. They were that way before. It just added some togetherness.”
Again, Mary O’Connor, from the story:
“Everyone has their pain, Everyone has their suffering. Who are we? Not worthy of the attention other than the fact that the two girls were hurt so closely together. We are more than humbled.”
…I’ll tell you, readers: We are damn lucky to have the Thompson family in our midst. Lucky to be able to look toward them and see how it is possible to carry on — faithfully, arm in arm — in the grip of almost incomparable pain and suffering. It is we who are humbled by them.
Note: A huge tip of the hat to The Star’s Eric Adler, one of the very best down at 18th and Grand, for his piece on the Thompsons. Eric had the good sense to frame the story and then let the Thompsons build it with their words.
Note 2: A quick anecdote about Mark Thompson, a bank vice president. I’ve been a Country Club customer for many years, and I’ve known Mark for many years. On an icy Saturday morning in December 2007, I fell and broke my ankle in the parking lot of the Trafficway branch, as I walked toward the front door of the bank. The injury required surgery and a plate. Later, I told Mark what had happened and he authorized the bank to cover the $5,000 deductible amount on my insurance policy.