Deceased July 1, 2018
Richard “Grak” Thompson died July 1 at the Fort Bayard Medical Center near his home in Silver City, N.M., after a two-year battle with brain cancer.
He came to Amherst in 1966 from San Bernardino, Calif., with a full scholarship. I met him soon after he checked into Morrow but could not get him to answer to Richard or any diminutive thereof. He, Bob Spielman ’70, Rick McNeer ’70 and I spent a lot of time in the Morrow basement playing bridge. Instead of saying “pass,” he would always say “grak” and thus tagged himself with a name he would answer to.
Grak had as much integrity as anyone I ever met, although it must be said that it was according to his own unique code. The kind of challenge he relished was passing the final exam in a math course for which he had not attended any classes. He didn’t.
He majored in English but didn’t graduate until 1973 as he explored the backroads of life via his two great passions, driving and music. He took me and many others in his Plymouth on every back road of Western Mass. with hardly a word spoken and the radio tuned to WKBW. Grak hosted a show on WAMF as “the night tripper with a satchel of gris-gris in his hand.” He collected thousands of 45s and became over his lifetime an authority on the music.
He developed a third passion when he met his wife-to-be, Suzanne. He had to work hard for the next 31 years to keep up his legendary gruffness as he became the new Dick Thompson and a truly happy man.
Grak worked some strange jobs, including the lockdown ward of Northampton State Hospital. Somewhere along the way he became fascinated with computers. He worked first for the Thom McAn shoe company and then did well for himself as an independent consultant.
But he never talked about any of that. He talked about music and he drove. When Rick and I flew to Spielman’s in Chicago in 2001 for a bridge marathon, Grak drove there from eastern Connecticut via Canada.
He showed up in Amherst a few weeks after our 45th reunion. We were joined by Melinda and Sherm Edwards ’70, and once again we all found ourselves with Grak at the wheel driving the back road of Western Mass.
I last saw Grak and Suzanne in August 2015 when John Grahame ’70 and I drove to Silver City from Flagstaff, Ariz., in John’s motor home. Grak took us for one last wild ride in the mountains, shifting smoothly through the gears of his six-on-the-floor Cadillac CTS.
S. Wylie Smith ’70