Williston nonagenarian keeps on schussing

Jim Thompson celebrates 90th birthday

By Colin Ryan
Observer correspondent

Jim Thompson catches the first lift up the mountain at Smugglers’ Notch four or five times a week – but he’s hardly a typical downhill skier. On Saturday, Thompson’s family threw him a 90th birthday party at the Williston Woods Community Center.

The still-spry Thompson stood for most of the party, ignoring a minor health issue, trading hugs and memories with more than 50 friends and family members who came to wish him well.

“I’m not nearly as active as Jim is. He’s always doing something,” said Thompson’s wife, Harriet, with a sigh, then added with a smile, “Jim is a 60-year-old in a 90-year-old body.”

After living for 40 years in Jeffersonville, the Thompsons returned to Williston in July to live near their daughter, Hallery Brunet. Thompson worked for many years as a chemical engineer for IBM, and his grandchildren, who flew in for the party, vividly recall his love for chemistry.

“I still remember being 8 years old and innocently asking my grandfather where salt comes from,” recounted granddaughter Jodie Donohue, who came from South Carolina. “Well, he proceeded to give me a 30-minute, college-level dissertation on the creation of sodium chloride. He certainly explained it well, but he also gave me a lot more than I bargained for.”

Several of Thompson’s friends wore ties to the party, in honor of his unique habit of skiing while wearing a tie.

“He hated wearing a tie to work at IBM,” explained Brunet, “but he was happy to wear them on the slopes, because they would keep his neck warm. He had to do it, since he simply refused to wear sweaters.”

Donohue, along with grandsons Bob and James Brunet, compiled a book of 90 memories of their grandfather for the partygoers to peruse. The three grandchildren remembered an active childhood of hiking, canoeing, swimming, fishing, camping and skiing – both water and downhill.

“He always had a great deal of reverence for the natural world, and had respect for nature and modern-day heroes,” said grandson James Brunet, who as a boy fly fished at night with Thompson near his primitive lakeside cabin in Pennsylvania.

“He’s a remarkable man,” said Jeffersonville resident Margaret McIntosh, who called the slopes at Smugglers’ Notch her retirement home. McIntosh is the president of the 16-year-old Smugglers’ 55+Club, of which Thompson is a founding member.

“Jim was on the ski patrol for 30 years, and only retired at age 80. He’s an ambassador in many ways – in and through his life, he has always promoted our ski areas,” McIntosh said.

In honor of Thompson’s 90th birthday, Smugglers’ Notch awarded him with a Lifetime Skiing Award, which was on display at the party.

“I wrote in his birthday card that I’ve been trying to keep up with him for years,” laughed Clem Holden, 85, who has already skied 11 days this season.

Holden described Thompson as a “mad skier.”

“He’s a very positive person,” said Bill Boyce, who worked for IBM at the same time as Thompson, but first met him on a chairlift at Smuggs. “The whole time I’ve known him, he’s had a grin on his face and a gleam in his eye.”

Explained Donohue, “He has always been an intense person – and he never does anything halfway, although I think the years have mellowed him in a really good way.”

James Brunet agreed.

“He’s always been driven in all aspects. I think his perspective changed along with his age. I think he’s come to terms with what he has done, and is satisfied … finally,” Brunet laughed. “May we all be so fortunate.”