George Thompson, a former IBM employee and longtime resident of Rochester, is the father of ex-John Marshall standout athletes Darrell, Jennifer and George Jr. Darrell was the most famous of the three, a record-breaking running back at the University of Minnesota and later a first-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers.
Jennifer played volleyball at the University of Iowa and George Jr. volleyball at Pepperdine University.
The 76-year-old Thompson’s three children inherited much of their athletic ability from him.
He grew up in St. Louis, then later went to Clark College in Atlanta where he was a standout basketball player and sprinter on the track team (he once ran against former Olympic sprint gold medalist and Dallas Cowboys star Bob Hayes).
In his two years in Atlanta, Thompson lived with his aunt, Alice Coachman Davis.
Unbeknownst to him — at least at the time — Coachman Davis was a former Olympic high jump champion, the first African American woman to ever win a gold medal.
You didn’t realize your aunt was an Olympic champion until years after college. How did you not know?
THOMPSON: I was only 6 years old when she won, so I didn’t see it or hear about it then. And when I was living with her, she never talked about it.
But I remember one day Bob Hayes came to our house (in Atlanta) and wanted to meet her.
I didn’t know what that was about at the time. She was just cool about the whole (Olympic champion) thing. She never bragged about anything.
She was a person who believed in being very genuine and sincere.
You’ve had all kinds of dealings with famous people — besides your own kids. One of them was playing lots of basketball on the playgrounds of St. Louis with eventual Boston Celtics star Jo Jo White. How did that happen and how did you fare against him?
THOMPSON: When we were growing up in St. Louis, you’d find the best (competition) in the school yard that you could. That’s how I met Jo Jo White. We played one-on-one a lot, and I’d bet we about split. He taught me how to make a quick step and how to make a head-and-shoulder fake, then take off. We called it “disappearing.”
How did your fare in your sprint competition with Bob Hayes?
THOMPSON (laughing): I didn’t come close to him.
What’s it like being the father of Darrell, one of the better known Minnesota-born athletes ever?
THOMPSON: I see myself the same as anyone else. I’m proud of my kids, but that is them doing what they did, not me. But with Darrell, it is kind of fun because so many people know me because of him.
You say that you acquired your athleticism from your Dad and your Mom. How did you find out that they were athletic?
THOMPSON: People would tell me that my dad was a really good basketball player. He was fast and could do things. As for my Mom, I just know that she could catch us (with a sprint) and give us a good whipping.
It’s been rumored that you could still dunk a basketball on a 10-foot hoop at age 64. True or false?
THOMPSON: That is true. I’ve got video of it.
You arrived in Rochester in 1968, when there were very few people of color living here. What was that like, how have things changed, and what’s kept you here?
THOMPSON: I love the people here. I’ve made some really wonderful friends in Rochester.
I came here and then helped convert some things to the way I like them.
When I got here there was no (designated) places for (African Americans) when it came to haircuts and clothes and churches. But I just thought, “what am I going to do about it?” I learned how to adapt and modify things. But I’ve always said, “what am I going to do to make things better?” You do what you can under the circumstances.