Bill Thompson spent his career as a leading specialized distributor and exhibitor at Focus, Gramercy, Picturehouse, among others; on December 11, he died of cancer at 73. He was not a staple of industry news, but throughout his half-century career he was respected and beloved at a level few in his field achieve. News of his death has included universal citing of his decency and kindness at the forefront, something that his friend and Abramorama distributor Richard Abramowitz witnessed firsthand.
Bill Thompson was my friend and I was his, which makes me one of many.
The mention of his name was invariably followed by “What a good guy.” But that’s not enough. He was uncommonly welcoming and tolerant, so the list of his likes is long; it’s easier to name the things he didn’t like. The Yankees: As a long-suffering Orioles fan, he didn’t like them. He really didn’t like them. He also didn’t like bullies and liars, although it could be said that he worked for one or two over the years. Somehow though, because he was always Bill, he kept his dignity and his integrity throughout.
He was generous in his typically quiet way, with his knowledge, his relationships and even his blood, which was O-, making him the universal donor. I can attest to this last one personally.
He had strong opinions but he also had an open mind, respect for others, and a rare capacity for civilized disagreement. His modesty disguised the scope of his knowledge, which was fed by an insatiable appetite for books. He enjoyed traveling, seeing new places, and meeting new people. He was an avid theater-goer and he liked movies. He really liked movies. Watching them, talking about them, arguing about them, booking them, selling them.
It goes without saying, but needs to be said anyway: Bill was a devoted family man. The pride he took in his daughters and the full, accomplished lives they’ve built, the boundless joy he took in his grandsons, the deep and abiding love he shared with his wife Sherrie. He valued and prioritized these things long before he knew his time was short.
He was born Methodist but his faith was in Sherrie, whose stated mission these past few years was to keep him alive and happy for as long as possible, a mission she accomplished with relentless determination and good humor.
In a business where it’s easy to make enemies, Bill made friends. He was generous but not indiscriminate, so it meant something to be his friend, a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. In his last days he sent around a few notes and being copied on them was like being let behind the velvet rope into the VIP Room of human decency. (I am the proxy for those many people, who know who they are and how deeply Bill cared for them.) His final note was simple and profound: “Please be kind to each other and keep in touch with Sherrie.”
The world was a better place with Bill in it. I miss him already.