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William Claude Thompson Jr., age 69, passed away of a heart attack July 19, 2012, in the midst of Indiana’s worst heat wave in many years. He was born in Fort Benning, Georgia, where his father, William Claude Thompson, was an Army supply sergeant in the base hospital during World War II, and his mother, Virginia Thompson, worked as a social worker. He grew up in Columbus, Indiana, where he was well known as a nationally-ranked swimming star. Both a high school and college All-American and inductee in the Indiana High School Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame, he nearly qualified for the U.S. Olympic Team in 1960.
Claude won a swimming scholarship to Indiana University, where he received a Bachelor of Science and a Master's in Business Administration. He was a stalwart on his SAE fraternity’s Little 500 bicycle team — which won the race in 1964 — and continued to cycle the remainder of his life. During his high school and college years, Claude displayed a contagious sense of humor and was well liked by those fortunate enough to know him. He had numerous friends and maintained contact with many of them until his death.
A veteran of the United States Navy, Claude attended Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Newport, Rhode Island, and served as the gunnery officer on the USS Taussig during the Vietnam War. The destroyer provided gun support to Marine and Army units along the coast of Vietnam and also played a part in defending the USS Pueblo, which was captured off the Korean coast. After his discharge from the Navy, Claude’s business career in finance and real estate led him across the country from San Diego to Honolulu, Atlanta, Kansas City, Louisville, and then back to his native Columbus.
Throughout his life, Claude pursued his love of photography. He produced a scenic video on Alaska for cable TV as well as posters of Kentucky and Southern Indiana scenes based on his photographs. Claude was deeply committed to his work; one week before his death, he sold his designs at the Bartholomew County Fair. He was also an avid reader, especially of the classics from Plato to Machiavelli. During the last two decades of his life, he reread the entire New Testament every January.
Claude is survived by two brothers — Wayne C. Thompson of Lexington, Virginia, and Victor I. Thompson of Columbus — and a sister, Suzanne Thompson Heiser of Sonoma, California, as well as numerous nieces and nephews.
The family asks that any donations be directed to the Duane Barrows Scholarship Fund, in care of the Heritage Fund, 538 Franklin St., Columbus, IN 47201.
A celebration of Claude’s life will be held at Thompson Furniture Store, 2440 Central Ave., Columbus, on Saturday December 29, 2012, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. All of Claude’s friends and acquaintances are invited to attend.