Dr. Alvin Jerome Thompson, 'Johnny Appleseed of medicine,' dies at age 88
Dr. Alvin Jerome Thomspon, a pioneer in several local organizations and one of Seattle's first African-American physicians, died in his home on May 21. He was 88 years old.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the Alvin Thompson Medical Student Support Fund at the University Of Washington School of Medicine. Gifts may be mailed to: UW Medicine Advancement, Attn: Gift Processing Box 358045, Seattle, WA 98195-8045. Make checks payable to the UW Foundation. Personal stories and written tributes may be shared on People's Memorial website at http://funerals.coop.
After decades as a champion of equal health care for everyone, Dr. Alvin Jerome Thompson, one of Seattle's earliest African-American physicians, has died at age 88.
A philanthropist, organizer, clinical professor at the University of Washington, and doctor of internal medicine and gastroenterology, Dr. Thompson died May 21 in his home with his five children and wife at his side.
Described by friends and family as dignified, straightforward and reliable, Dr. Thompson wasn't afraid to ask tough questions, but he always did so with kindness and grace.
"Medicine is not practiced one patient at a time, but on the whole community, on the nation and hopefully internationally," Dr. Thompson said in 1989 after the nonprofit Washington Gives named him Philanthropist of the Year. "The best missionary work is in one's own community, where you know where the levers are to make things work."
He is credited with opening doors for more minorities to attend the UW and to work in medicine, improving care for underserved populations, and mentoring generations of health-care leaders. He especially encouraged medical specialists to reach out to underserved populations and not assume that providing health care was only the responsibility of primary-care physicians.
"I always called my husband the Johnny Appleseed of medicine," said his wife, Faye Thompson. "He planted seeds and helped them grow."
His persistence was reflected in his poetry. In September 2010, he wrote, "How hopeful must a doctor be, to think, to care, when all seems lost; ... Because hope is all there is to a life fulfilled; The last best hope of man is to survive being alive."
Dr. Thompson was appointed to the U.S. Naval Academy in 1940 before earning his medical degree from Howard University in 1946.
After marrying, the couple moved to Puerto Rico, where Dr. Thompson served as chief of medicine at Ramey Air Force Base Hospital.
He moved to Seattle in 1953 to work at a Veterans Affairs hospital. Shortly after that, he created the gastroenterology and internal medicine lab for Providence Health and Services, as well as established a private practice.
In the decades to follow, Dr. Thompson worked with more than 15 local and national health-care organizations. He also was active with a school for environmental education and the Rotary Club of Seattle.
He has served on numerous county, state and national government committees, focusing on equal access to health care, the use of tobacco, diabetes, immunization, education and research.
He helped establish several area organizations and annual events, including the Washington State Association of Black Professionals in Health Care and the Northwest Kidney Centers' annual Kidney Health Fest. Dr. Thompson reinforced UW's mentoring program for minority medical students by connecting the campus with more area physicians.
His honors include the John Geyman Health Justice Advocate Award, in recognition of tireless commitment to justice in health care; and the Dr. Benjamin Rush Award for Citizenship and Community from the American Medical Association. Dr. Thompson was named both a laureate and master by the American College of Physicians.
"He was my Thurgood Marshall in medicine," said Millie Russell, a retired UW administrator whom Dr. Thompson recruited to establish the Washington State Association of Black Professionals in Health Care. "He could get into circles that most of us couldn't and sensitize people not just as a person of color, but as a smart, articulate man."
Many knew him through his private practice, which he maintained until 1994, and through his decades of community service that continued into this year.
His daughter, Susan Thompson, also remembers that when he'd return home from work he always would check on the kids and ask if they needed help with homework.
Her father would go sailing every weekend, often with the family, and sometimes the kids would come along on an annual two-week trip near the San Juan Islands. She said she most cherishes memories of family camping trips and clamming on the beach.
"I remember him with his leg up on a rock, shucking oysters and slurping them down by the campfire," she said.
Along with his wife, he is survived by his children Michael Thompson, of Lynnwood; Donna Thompson and Kevin Thompson, of Seattle; Susan Thompson, of Mercer Island; and Gail Thompson, of Snoqualmie.
The family will hold a private service at a later date.
Jayme Fraser: 206-464-2201 or email@example.com. On Twitter @jaymekfraser