Wow! Where do I begin. My Dad was an extraordinary man… a loving husband and father, Harvard educated cardio-vascular surgeon, simultaneous Rhodes Scholar and Fulbright Scholar, pioneer in his field, researcher, teacher, author, athlete, proud Texan, Eagle Scout, and World War Two veteran.
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His was a lifetime of amazing accomplishments, but Dr. Jesse Thompson was really just a humble Texas boy from Laredo with a big personality and a quick wit. Dad picked cotton as a boy and worked as a janitor to pay for room and board at the University of Texas during the depression. As a straight-A student and captain of the cross-country team his senior year, Dad was selected as a Rhode scholar in 1939. After his selection, he took the train to New York City to board a ship for Oxford. On September first, Hitler invaded Poland and Dad’s passport was cancelled. He wired Harvard Medical School and they accepted him immediately into the first year class. Dad eventually took up his Rhodes scholarship in 1950 when the program re-opened after the war ended.
He truly was a brilliant man, but was never a snob about it. He knew something about everything. My Dad loved opera music and Sousa marches, reading, water skiing, traveling, spicy Tex-Mex food, dessert, and Longhorn football. Hook ‘em Horns!!
Some of you may know that President Bill Clinton was a Rhodes Scholar. During his first presidential campaign, Mr. Clinton would tell the story of picking up a magazine article on the day of his Rhodes interview in 1967 and reading an article on Louis Washkansky, the recipient of the world’s first human heart transplant. During the interview, a physician member of the selection committee questioned him on that very same subject. Mr. Clinton gave a well-informed and articulate answer and felt the physician voted for him to receive the Rhodes Scholarship based on that answer. That physician was my father, Jesse Thompson. 25 years later, Dad thought the name sounded familiar so he looked up his old records and, sure enough, it was William J. Clinton from Hope, Arkansas. Dad told us he was a “superb candidate” and gave him straight A’s across the board. Dad described Mr. Clinton as “the best Rhodes Scholar candidate I ever interviewed”.
My Dad became a doctor because he wanted to help people. He established a vascular fellowship program to pass along his knowledge to young surgeons. As a father, he taught my brother, sisters, and me to laugh and love, strive for perfection, never give up, and save money. (Although I’m not very good at that one.) Dad wasn’t quite sure why I wanted to go into broadcasting instead of medicine, but I know he was tickled pink whenever he heard me on the CBS Radio Hourly News. Dad passed away 3 years ago and a day doesn’t go by when I don’t think about this wonderful man.