When John Thompson stepped on the OC campus as a student in the mid-70s, a legend was in the making.
He was freshman class president and student body president. He earned the Student History Award. He went on the become a longtime professor at OC, earning the university’s Gaylord Chair of Distinguished Teaching in 1998.
“There are two places on the face of this earth that I absolutely love, and this place is one of them,” Dr. Thompson said. “This place did so much for me as far as deepening my faith and sharpening my mind. On another campus, particularly a state school campus, I wouldn’t be forced to try to understand my faith and the discipline of history.”
And what OC did for him, he did for his students.
“We’re trying to teach the whole person. We’re trying to deepen the faith of our students. We’re very concerned about character, about the type of person you’ll be,” Thompson said. “We’re not just trying to recruit students because we’re concerned about a number. We truly believe that this school will be good for them, that they will make relationships that will last all their lives.”
Thompson was an expert in African-American history, African civilization, the Civil War, and many other topics. We might also say he was an expert in making the love of history contagious for many self-proclaimed “history haters” who sat in his classes to fulfill general education requirements.
His perseverance through years of chronic kidney problems was extraordinary. He taught with fervor, and students and faculty alike were thankful he stayed devoted to the classroom.
He almost didn’t teach in his final semester in Fall 2008. That August, he was hospitalized in ICU combating another round of health complications.
But his students energized him. His family energized him. His work on an important project to research and write a book on the NAACP in Oklahoma energized him. The presidential election energized him. His passion energized everyone else.
On December 11, 2008, the last time his Civil War and Reconstruction class met for the semester, Dr. Thompson said, “That was the most fun I’ve had teaching since the first time I taught that class.”
That is how he died on Friday afternoon, December 12, 2008.
We remain deeply blessed by Dr. Thompson today. The John Thompson Leadership Program bears the name of one of OC’s most beloved and remarkable scholars, a man of great Christian faith who worked hard and was committed to his discipline, who made his students want to achieve. There is no better academic legacy.