WIMAUMA — There was a time when Vince Thompson decided to change careers. He loved working in Hillsborough County Schools, but he knew he could make a lot more money elsewhere.
So he managed a waterfront resort in southern Hillsborough. The money rolled in. More than he had ever made as a teacher or a school administrator. But it wasn't enough. He missed his students too much.
After a couple of years, he was back in the school system. In his later years of working full-time he was principal of East Bay High School, and then became the first principal of Riverview High School.
Mr. Thompson, who was still working part-time for the school district, passed away Oct. 3 of heart failure. He was 73.
"Vince Thompson was a great educator," said his longtime friend and colleague Earl Lennard, a former superintendent of Hillsborough County Schools and the county's current supervisor of elections. "And I truly believe that was not so much a great academician as that he was committed to his students. He knew them by face, he knew what classes they took, he knew their parents."
Before he went into administration, Mr. Thompson had a long, successful career as a teacher and football coach, including years at Hillsborough and Robinson.
One thing that made him an exceptional principal, Lennard said, was that Mr. Thompson recognized that not every student was interested in sports, so he made sure his schools offered opportunities for students to find their passion in music, drama or any other activity that might interest them. Mr. Thompson thought ever extracurricular activity was potentially as valuable as sports, and he supported them all. He attended every football game, but also every school play.
He also had the vision to understand the unusual demands of opening a new school. When Riverview opened, most of its students had been attending other schools and they still felt attachments to them. Mr. Thompson tried to make them feel like part of Riverview.
"He started even before the doors opened," Lennard said. "He let the students pick the nickname and the school colors. That first day they walked into that school, they were all Riverview Sharks."
In 2001, the football stadium at Riverview High School was named after Mr. Thompson. Another honor may be in the works.
A petition has been circulating asking the school system to name a new elementary school after Mr. Thompson. It would open in 2014, near Earl J. Lennard High School in Ruskin.
"I believe there's a lot of community sentiment to name the school after him," Lennard said.
Mr. Thompson had lived virtually his entire life in the Tampa Bay area. He grew up in Tarpon Springs, where he met his wife, Judy, while they were both teenagers. They married two years later and moved to Hillsborough County while he got his degree in education from the University of Tampa. They spent a couple of years in Mississippi where he studied and coached at two colleges, and then returned to this area for good.
He had never really stopped working in education. Almost until the day of his death, he was working 20 hours a week for the school system, helping to resolve conflicts between parents and the schools.
Since his death, the Thompson family has received condolences from students from all five decades of Mr. Thompson's career in Hillsborough County Schools.
"He loved his students," Judy Thompson said, "and they knew it."
In addition to his wife, Mr. Thompson is survived by his son, Michael, his daughters Niki Pennington and Shelby Mason and two grandchildren.
A memorial service for Mr. Thompson is scheduled for 3 p.m. today at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, 1015 Del Webb E in Sun City Center. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to St. John the Divine.
Marty Clear writes life stories about area residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]abay.rr.com.