Strand Notebook | Community gathering to celebrate life of Jay Thompson

Strand NotebookJuly 17, 2014 

A celebration of the life of Jay Thompson will be at Rivertown Bistro in Conway on July 30 from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Jennings “Jay” Thompson died on July 4 at 86. Friends remember him as a talented writer and director, a musical genius with an incredible sense of humor, and a generous man devoted to helping others.

The celebration will provide the opportunity to enjoy hors d’oeuvres, share memories and be with others who loved and admired Thompson.

His works include co-writing the book and Broadway play “Once Upon a Mattress,” writing the song “Jimmy” in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and many more plays, jingles, commercials and songs.

For his friend Dianne DeVaughn Stokes and others involved in community theatre in Horry or Georgetown counties, he was an inspiration.

When she hosted “Southern Style” on Time Warner Cable, he went on as a guest and took his portable piano. He asked her to say one word, any word, and he would write a song using it. His best song was in response to the word “Aynor,” and he later used in “A Pocketful of Wry.”

While Thompson was widely known for contributions to the arts, his friends say there was much more to him. “He was such a good person,” said Keith Bowling, his closest friend.

Thompson went “far above and beyond” to help others, Bowling said.

One small example of that occurred when Thompson had to give up driving a few years ago. He donated his car to a charity, but before he let it go, he sent it to a mechanic and had everything checked to make sure it was in good condition. “He was not going to give away anything that wasn’t good,” Bowling said.

Thompson was a father-figure to many people.

He was among the first to support United Spirit for AIDS, and later Careteam, and he devoted a great deal of time to making certain AIDS patients had their medicines and doing other things for them.

“He certainly did spend his life devoted to helping people,” said John Henry, an artist and a close friend of Thompson’s who now lives in Durham, N.C. “Jay was probably the most generous person I ever knew in my life, and I’ve known a lot of people. He would do just anything for people who needed help.”

He would also give Henry honest critiques on his paintings. “I could depend on him for that. Jay was always encouraging. He was a wonderful friend,” Henry said.

In his book “Magic to Do,” a history of the first 30 years of the Theatre of the Republic in Conway, Wayne Chestnut wrote about Thompson directing “The Boyfriend.” With no one to play the role of Marcel, he cut out a life-size plywood figure, which Henry painted, and named him Ply Woode.

Ply Woode became one of the audiences’ favorite characters. “Ply Woode is obviously cut out for the theatre,” Thompson said.

Chestnut wrote: Director Thompson had directed enough plays to know that when things seem as bad as they could get “that’s when you dig deepest and come up with the best solution.”

Rivertown Bistro is at 1111 Third Ave. in Conway.

Contact PEGGY MISHOE at pegmish@sccoast.net or 365-3885.

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