Obituary: Lois Rae (Long) Thompson
Lifetime activist for peace, civil right and social justice
Lois Rae (Long) Thompson died February 5 after a short illness at Pilgrim Place retirement community in Claremont, where she had lived for more than 28 years.
Born on November 25, 1929, Lois was raised on the campus of Southern Christian Institute, a boarding school for black students in Edwards, Mississippi, where her parents, John and Olive Long, served on the staff from the 1920s into the 1950s.
She attended Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, for one year before transferring to Texas Christian University in the warmer environs of Fort Worth, Texas, graduating in 1951. At TCU, she met her future husband, Rhodes Thompson Jr., of Paris, Kentucky. They celebrated their 65th anniversary before he died in 2017 also at Pilgrim Place.
She gained a mission in life from her experience growing up in Mississippi on the integrated SCI campus, at a time when the “color line” was rigidly enforced and those who crossed it did so at considerable peril. For the rest of her active life, she volunteered in multiple capacities with organizations working for peace, civil rights, and social justice alongside Rhodes, who was a minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
The couple served in Disciples of Christ churches in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Little Rock in the early 1960s, when those cities were embroiled in turmoil over desegregation. From 1966 to 1970, they lived in Kobe, Japan, on a four year assignment as short-term missionaries. On their return to the United States, they took up the challenge of leading and helping integrate a once all-white church in an all-Black inner city neighborhood in St. Louis. Before moving to the Los Angeles area in 1991, they lived in Enid, Oklahoma, where her husband taught at the Phillips University Theological Seminary for a decade.
“They have travel in their blood,” declared a profile of the couple published in the Enid Morning News in 1986. The profile recounted the globe-spanning paths they had followed from their “small town upbringings in Mississippi and Kentucky” to Enid, including an around-the-world trip on the return from Japan.
She had a knack for becoming “a part of any community we have been in,” her husband told the paper. Soon after their arrival in the town on the plains of Oklahoma, she was already “mixed up in a whole bunch of stuff,” she said with a laugh, mentioning her involvement with a local peace and justice center and an interracial women’s group.
In the early 1960s in Little Rock she had joined mixed-race groups of women affiliated with Church Women United on luncheon outings to restaurants that until then had admitted whites only. Similar efforts in other Southern cities at the time were violently repulsed but she said her interracial parties were seated and served without mishap.
Over the decades, she was involved with a wide array of other organizations including Habitat for Humanity, the League of Women Voters, and local chapters of the United Nations Association. She was also active in local Democratic Party groups wherever she lived, including Claremont.
In her 93 years of life, “she touched everyone who came in contact with her loving presence,” said her daughter, Jody Heathery of Greeley, Colorado. “The light in the world dimmed when she took her last breath, but her spirit will live on in the light she lit in everyone she touched.”
In addition to Jody, she is survived by two other children, Lynn Thompson of Redondo Beach, California, and Mark Thompson of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; grandchildren Sara Thompson of Los Angeles, Amanda Thompson of Eugene, Oregon, Shelby Fields of London, England, and Kaylen Fields of Denver, Colorado; and great-grandchildren June Christensen of Eugene, Oregon, and Ozzie Gabriel of Los Angeles.
A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held at 3 p.m., Saturday, March 25, in Decker Hall at Pilgrim Place, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, CA 91711.
Memorial gifts may be made in Lois Thompson’s honor to the Fuller Center for Housing at fullercenter.org/donate, or by check to P.O. Box 523, Americus, GA 31709; or the Pilgrim Place Residents’ Support Fund at pilgrimplace.org/giving, or by check to 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont, CA 91711.