By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun
5:35 PM EST, December 19, 2013
George Frank Thompson, who made and served lunch to Pope John Paul II on his visit to Baltimore and who had earlier mixed drinks for five presidents as a Capitol Hill barman, died Dec. 14 at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. He was 98 and lived in the Otterbein section of the Inner Harbor.
Family members said that he was hurt in a fall on a transit bus two months ago and died of complications from that injury.
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Edward and Emma Milburn Thompson. He was raised on Bond Street in East Baltimore and attended city public schools.
Mr. Thompson moved to Washington, D.C., and became a bartender, and was later head bartender at the National Republican Party's Capitol Hill Club. Family members said he made and served drinks to presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan; and to George H.W. Bush, who was vice president at the time.
While working at the club's bar, known as the Auchincloss Grill, he began collecting miniature elephants and placing them on display.
"Each year after his vacation, he would bring a new one back," said Stan Lawson, the club's general manager. "At his retirement, the club's board decided to invest in a trophy case for them. He was also voted to have a lifetime membership in the club. To my knowledge, he was the only employee to receive this honor."
"My Uncle George was a great listener. And he did not drink," said his niece, Thelma A. Brooks of Gwynn Oak. "He felt the people at his bar needed to relax after work and talk about their issues and problems. He had to keep these remarks to himself. You would never hear them again."
Mr. Ford wrote to Mr. Thompson: "I'll always remember your wonderful collection of elephants. ... Your legacy of hospitality and friendship lives on for our future generations to enjoy."
After he retired from his Washington job in 1981, he returned to Baltimore and lived on Lyndhurst Street, in a home he shared with his brother.
In 1981, he became one of the first volunteers at Our Daily Bread, a homeless kitchen then located near the Basilica of the Assumption. After volunteering there for 14 years, Mr. Thompson was selected to prepare a meal and serve Pope John Paul II during the pontiff's visit to Baltimore on Oct. 8, 1995.
"God has been good to me over the years. Now it is time to pay some of it back," Mr. Thompson said in a 1995 Washington Post article. "Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be cooking for the pope."
In a 1995 Baltimore Sun article about the papal visit, he said, "We decided on chicken casserole. And I had mixed vegetables. And a salad and a dessert. Ice cream and cake. I cooked for him."
He said he was prepared. "We're pretty cool here. I'm used to dealing with things like this," Mr. Thompson told a Sun reporter. "I've been with presidents and senators and their guests. I never had an idea that I'd be cooking for the pope, though."
Mr. Thompson said in that article he did not change his routine: "We've been told that he wants us to do what we do every day. It wouldn't be a soup kitchen if we did something for him that we wouldn't do otherwise. It's much more beautiful this way."
He also described the experience: "He was very stately when he came in, a beautiful type of person. You don't expect what you see. You expect something greater than me walking as a man. That's just the way it is. There's just a normal person there, but you take him as untouchable."
William McCarthy, the executive director of Catholic Charities, said that Mr. Thompson "tracked" the plate the pope used and put it aside. He later presented the plate to an official of the charity.
"George really started when Our Daily Bread opened. He would get there hours before the rest of the staff, getting the meal ready, boiling the eggs and cutting the vegetables for the meal," said Mr. McCarthy.
Until earlier this year, he was also an usher at the Basilica of the Assumption and greeted people at the Sunday 8 a.m. Mass.
"He would welcome anyone who walked through the door, be it the Holy Father, the governor or a street person coming in to get warm," said Monsignor Arthur F. Valenzano, rector of the basilica. "He had a willingness to respect everyone. He was always a gentleman. He was well loved here."
Mr. Thompson later lived at the Hanover Square apartments. He kept a pair of binoculars at his window to see tall ships or other sights of interest in the Inner Harbor.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday at the Basilica of the Assumption, 401 Cathedral St.
In addition to his niece, he is survived by 11 other nieces and nephews.
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