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14th Anniversary!
CHS Cortland High School
Cortland, NY  USA
Saturday March 25, 2017
1963
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Today's Featured Biography

 

 
Richard Thompson


After high school, I found my calling was in tending bar. For eight years, I worked as a bartender at the Tavern, Domino's and the Hollywood (where I also made thousands of pizzas). It was a wonderful life, filled with every conceivable illegal drug, strong friendships and endless music. It was the 60s and I drank deeply from that cup. It wasn't all partying. There was a tragedy, some injustice and a share of sadness, which all came because the times were so politically and socially polarized. But it was the best of times.

In 1971, I moved to Los Angeles, worked again as a cook (Denny's) and started at a community college. In 1974, I moved to San Francisco (city of lingering '60s) and completed a journalism degree at SF State in 1978. Immediately after graduation, and with a lot of luck, I got a job at Time Magazine and carved out a specialty in science and medicine (a reporting beat none of the other big time reporters wanted but I found endlessly fascinating). I did cover basic news, like the murder of SF's mayor and the following riots (during which my photographer was brutally beaten by rampaging police). But my focus was on people like Steve Jobs of Apple computer, AIDS patients, and Bill Shuler, the physicist at Lawrence Livermore who developed a briefcase-size nuclear bomb.

I left SF in 1985 for a year of teaching and study (molecular biology) at M.I.T. Then I moved to the Washington bureau. From there I got to report on the Soviet space program (even interviewing from Star City's ground control center an cosmonaut in space), the burning of Amazon from Brazil, global environmental issues from everywhere and more AIDS. I would be dragged into other reporting. I was one of six reporters flown into Panama by the military during the invasions; I was in Granada for that invasion (where Hunter Thompson and I got high a lot and caused a lot of trouble); and Gulf War One (where I had a crash landing in Kuwait in a Hercules cargo plane which I think is a really safe plane). From time to time I covered the White House and often flew on Air Force One (both the old one--which JFK took to Dallas--and the new one which has a movie library in the press section. I flew once with Bush One from Somalia to Moscow (where Boris Yelsin saved me from falling in front of a crowd--I am still clumsy), to Chicago and Reagan, and lots of places with Clinton.

In fact, I spent a lot of time with Mrs. Clinton, who is certainly the smartest person I ever met. I spent about six months inside the White House doing background reporting on Hilary's health care reform. Time worked a deal to do the inside work as long as it wasn't printed before the plan itself was released.

During that time, I realized one of my best friends was the love of my life. Kristin Nolan worked at the Washington Post when we met. At 48 (she 27), we decided to get married and set a date (September 11). But two days before the wedding, the Clinton plan was leaked and I had to work 48 hours straight to produce the story we had worked on for months. I was even working at my wedding. Our honeymoon planned for Italy was cancelled. But we had a good cover story, and our marriage was the focus of a story (a publisher's letter with a picture of us in the White House) inside Time that week. We all thought it was great fun and eventually we had a bicycle tour in Provence for our honeymoon.

I was sent to New Delhi to be bureau chief there, which meant covering lots of violence in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Karachi. I was in Kabul, Afghanistan, when it was under siege by the Taliban. We were 70 to 200 rockets a day and you'd never know where those would land. I left just before the city fell, but not before I saw a lot of children maimed by landmines.

Back in DC in 1996, I returned to the science and medicine beat. I worked a long time with John Glenn, on his return to space, and I was in Cape Canaveral when he launched (and I stood there watching lift off, crying like a baby). I also worked closely with Craig Venter, the man who first decoded the human genome. I spent a lot of time with Al Gore and we developed a number of stories on global climate change. I wrote a book on predictive volcanology ("Volcano Cowboys") which was great fun. And then it was time to leave Time.

We moved to Geneva in August 2001 and were in Switzerland on our wedding anniversary, Sept 11. So many people from around the world came up to me that day..from the Middle East and Africa, from all the places where terrorism is a fact of life--and offered their sympathy. I've seen the US from a distance since that day, and being separated from my friends back home during the years that followed I believe I have been saddled with an emotional distance as well. It has provided a kind of perspective on the US, but one that isn't widely shared except by those of us who live outside the country. Also, working at the World Health Organization, and traveling throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia, has helped solidify that global perspective.

With mandatory retirement at the UN being 62, I hope whatever is next will be interesting.

(written in 2007)

Minor update: We sold our house in DC and drove across country, which took three months. We are now living in Portland, Oregon. I was called back to WHO to help with Ebola but returned to Portland after six months. We are volunteers for Kaiser hospice which has been an amazing experience.














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Today's Featured Class Member Website

 

William Vrooman

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