“What a ride!” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams in his opening remarks about 94-year-old Judge William C. Thompson during the memorial held in the elegant, gilded-domed court room in Brooklyn Borough Hall — fitting since the judge was a Brooklyn College and Law School graduate.
Every speaker thereafter reinforced Adams’ statement as they shared their personal memories of a man who broke the glass ceiling and lived a life of “firsts.”
His proud and remarkably successful son — Bill Thompson Jr., former City Comptroller and candidate for mayor who now serves as head of the CUNY board — served as the memorial’s emcee. He “controlled” the time each speaker had, as there were a dozen speakers who extolled his dad with tears and laughter, each sharing personal heartfelt memories of Thompson’s effect on their lives.
Judge Thompson was a man of firsts: first black elected state senator, first black judge on the State Supreme and Appellate Courts, and mentor to many, helping to found the Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Bedford-Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation while being a friend and powerful advocate in the civil rights movement alongside Thurgood Marshall and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
One of Judge Thompson’s mentees is the current Brooklyn District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez, whom he knew as a teenager, working for a state senator. Before the standing-room-only crowd of well-wishers, Gonzalez recalled how the late judge took him under his wing when he was considering running for Brooklyn DA.
“The judge not only encouraged me to run, but in the next breath, when I said I would, he took out his Rolodex and began making calls that he was supporting me, a kid who grew up in East New York!” Gonzalez said.
He later recalled how grateful he was too when the judge swore him in privately with his family — a memory for a lifetime.
Tears fell from my eyes as Judge Sylvia Ash shared how Judge Thompson acted as the “wind beneath her wings,” helping her to fly and encouraging her to join the bench. Many others repeated how grateful they were to receive Thompson’s undying support and mentoring.
His impact on the law will truly be felt for decades through those he helped.
Everyone in the room had a program with the judge’s history, signed by his two children, Bill Jr. and Annie. But within minutes of the ceremony, Bill Jr. revealed that his father, when asked about his family, would say he had seven children.
In fact, from his three marriages, Judge Thompson did have stepchildren, but never referred to them as such. A good lesson for all of us who have children from our multiple marriages.
The bond with these “children” was so strong that, when he retired from the bench, his two stepsons asked him to join their law firm, Ross & Hill. Out of dozens of opportunities, the judge did indeed spend his last years with them at their firm.
Sadly, he lost his beloved wife, the Honorable Sybil Heart Cooper, to cancer, but from this heart-wrenching experience he created the Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert (JALBCA), which has grown to provide thousands of women with free mammograms.
It was his way to help others, and now in death, his children are continuing that mission, asking people to donate to JALBCA in their dad’s memory. Their website is jalbca.org.
But with the love, appreciation and power of his presence on Earth, his impact will never be forgotten. Judge Thompson made history and his legacy lives on in his children and the lives of the people he touched.
I love that the family shared these words with us, quoted from Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”:
“I’ve lived a life that’s full
I’ve traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way.”
It was an inspiring night and a great tribute to a man who was “a shining star of his time.”
Opening a new supermarket
My friend Dragon Deng, with whom I traveled to China back in 2017, and wife Lily joyfully opened their first iFresh Asian-American supermarket on Long Island, in Carle Place, joining five other locations. Here he is with his wife Lily and Ed Cox, chairperson of the New York State Republican Party, and other leaders in the Asian community.