When a man such as Lyell Thompson passes from our midst, folks tend to focus on his accomplishments, his efforts on our behalf, and the loss to our community. They run the risk of losing their essence amidst all of the grief and praise, and the world-at-large, who may never have met him, may never have a hint of who they are reading about.
I could tell you about Lyell Thompson's work on behalf of fellow humanity, but mine would be just one voice among many, and I don’t think I could write as well as those who knew him much better than I did, regarding those matters.
Instead, I’ll tell you about Lyell and the tree . . .
I didn’t meet Lyell Thompson under the best of circumstances; in 1990, I ran against him, seeking his seat on the Washington County Quorum Court. I was one of a handful of folks that a less-than-conservative member of the Republican Party had convinced to run as Republicans that year, in order that we might “liberalize” the local GOP. Not only were our newfound friends in the Republican Party unimpressed by us, so were the voters; all of us lost our respective races.
In 1991, I was elected to the board of directors of Fayetteville Open Channel, by a faction which feared that a new contract would give the city of Fayetteville substantial control over public access, which would be the eventual death knell of public access. The infighting on the FOC board led to the resignations of half of the board (Lyell was among their number) on live television one chilly November evening.
This led to the Great Access War of 1991-1992.
Over the years, I began to see Lyell Thompson as far more than just someone I had foolishly disagreed with in the past. I began to see him not only through the eyes of others, but with the blinders off my own eyes. I saw how he stood up for the rights of gay employees when Republicans on the Washington County Quorum Court, hysterically responding to Fayetteville’s Human Dignity Resolution, voted to strip said employees of their job protections.
Like many others, I appreciated his performances as Mark Twain, and I enjoyed our too-infrequent discussions.
But when I read of Lyell’s death, I thought of none of that - I thought of Lyell and the tree . . .
Yes, well, imagine this if you will:
A certain Richard S. Drake walking along a University of Arkansas sidewalk, paying attention to nothing in particular, is is his wont. Suddenly, perhaps 30 feet away, is Lyell Thompson, who takes one look at the Drake, promptly drops his briefcase, and rushes over to the nearest tree, gripping it for dear life, and looking around the side, as if hiding from me, and checking to see if I have noticed him.
To complete this picture, you should understand that whatever Lyell was gripping between his hands couldn’t actually properly be called a tree, just something that might have aspirations to be a tree one day - perhaps five or six inches wide, if that.
Around us, a few young people stared in amazement.
Then we both laughed, a good laugh.
When I think of Lyell Thompson this week, I have been thinking of the tree . . .
Quote of the Day
It is the part of prudence to thank an author for his book before reading it, so as to avoid the necessity of lying about it afterwards. - George Santayana