Richard W. “Dick” Thompson, a language arts teacher for nearly 40 years at West Middle School in Westminster who shared his love of movies with thousands in the classroom, died Nov. 25 at his Medfield home in Baltimore of undetermined causes. He was 73.
Known for his endless energy, Mr. Thompson was destined to become a teacher from childhood, according to his older sister, Helen Miller.
A lifelong movie buff, whose favorites included the 1959 religious epic “Ben-Hur” and the 1938 adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” Mr. Thompson infused his curriculum with themes and morals from these and other films to get through to students.
“He was just an exceptional teacher,” said Dr. Jeff Woolford, a Maryland Air National Guard colonel and 2022 candidate for lieutenant governor who was a student of Mr. Thompson’s in the seventh grade. “He was able to weave modern-day applications from fantasy and mythology and used what interested the kids.”
In his constant mission to make middle school memorable, Mr. Thompson arranged drive-in movie nights, Edgar Allan Poe field trips and even helped Mr. Woolford secure a press kit from Paramount Pictures for “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”
“He always had creative ideas,” said Barbara Bankard, who met Mr. Thompson when she started teaching social studies at West Middle in 1981 and later supervised him as an assistant principal. “There are students to this day that he taught in the ‘80s or the ‘70s that stayed in touch with him their entire life.”
A recipient of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce’s 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award, Mr. Thompson kick-started West Middle’s Summer Enrichment
Program, which offered cross-curricular courses in a low-pressure environment. He mentored countless colleagues as well as students during his tenure.
“I probably would have quit teaching if it was not for him,” said Amy Grayson, a West Middle math teacher who worked alongside Thompson for 15 years.
Richard Willis Thompson was born June 24, 1949, in Baltimore City. His parents were Charles M. Thompson, a sergeant with the Baltimore Police Department, and Ferne D. Thompson, a homemaker.
The youngest of four, he grew up in the Hampden neighborhood and graduated from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in 1967. He earned his undergraduate degree in education from Towson State College (now Towson University) in 1971 before embarking on his career at West Middle, commuting every day from Baltimore, before Interstate 795 was built.
“He was probably the best teacher I’ve ever had,” said Douglas Blackiston, a biomedical researcher at Harvard and Tufts universities who attended West Middle in the early 1990s. “He really changed my whole educational trajectory for my life.”
A devout Christian, Mr. Thompson attended Hampden Methodist Church, where he sang in the choir and met his future wife, Linda Tice, who played piano. They were married for 40 years until her death in June.
Mr. Thompson remained active after his retirement in 2011, assistant teaching at Medfield Heights Elementary School and leading courses at Towson’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute for students ages 50 and older. He also spent the last several years volunteering at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore.
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His obsession with the cinema was matched only by his love for animals, particularly beagles, according to his family. Mr. Thompson and his rescue beagle, Tucker, were featured in a recent Baltimore Sun story about pet death care and his home served as a constant sanctuary for animals from the Beagle Rescue of Southern Maryland.
“Anybody who has ever had a dog or cat would agree with me that they change your lives,” Mr. Thompson told The Sun. “There’s a bond between a person and a pet that is very difficult to quantify, but it’s something very special.”
In addition to Ms. Miller, of Hampstead, Mr. Thompson is survived by his sister, Glenna Krebs of Westminster, and numerous nieces, nephews and godchildren. He was predeceased by his sister, Geraldine Perryman, in 1965, and wife, Linda Carol Thompson, this year.
The family will receive friends at the Burgee-Henss-Seitz Funeral Home in Baltimore on Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m.
A service will be held at the funeral home on Friday at 10 a.m., followed by a procession to Woodlawn Cemetery. A celebration of life will be held at the funeral home upon return from the cemetery.
Mr. Thompson requested that the final scene from “Ben-Hur,” in which two characters are cured of leprosy, be played at his service.
“He loved those types of movies,” explained Ms. Miller, who said the biblical epic helped inspire his faith. “But most any movie he could find something positive to say about it.”