Jerry "Bubba" Thompson
Tahlequah, April 13, 1947 - Tahlequah, Nov. 24, 2002
On Nov. 24, 2002, the Cherokee people lost one of the best. Jerry "Bubba" Thompson served the Cherokee people as an employee of the Cherokee Nation for 35 years beginning in 1967, the last 15 as facilities manager for Sequoyah High School.
At his funeral on Nov. 27, 2002, at the Keys (Okla.) First Baptist Church, former Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller spoke for many who knew "Bubba" when she delivered the following eulogy.
Eulogy by former Principal Chief Wilma Mankiller:
As I watched everyone come in, I was reminded of how much the employees of the Cherokee Nation are like a family and felt again how grateful I am to be a part of that family. It is my sad duty to make a few remarks about Jerry Thompson whom most of us here today knew as Bubba.
Charlie (Soap, Mankiller’s husband) and Jerry attended Stilwell High School together where they were both involved in sports. Jerry was a highly skilled basketball player who once held a record for scoring 52 points in a single basketball game. He earned the position of fullback on the SHS football team after an exciting game in which he grabbed a fumble, and made a touchdown by running right through a group that tried to tackle him. He was a hero to the crowd that night.
Jerry was a hero to a lot of people long after the cheers of that football crowd died down. He was a surprisingly emotional fellow who always led with his heart. He was quick to spot someone who needed help and to extend a hand, especially to young people.
When (former Deputy Chief) John Ketcher and I were looking for someone to take over management of the grounds at Sequoyah High School in l986, Charlie recommended Jerry Thompson who had a reputation as someone who could get things done. Bringing Jerry on board was one of the best decisions we made. Within a few short weeks after Jerry was hired, the grounds at Sequoyah looked great, and Jerry loved working there. He loved everything about Sequoyah and became one of its biggest fans.
Jerry was a father figure to a number of young people, including students at Sequoyah High School. Sue (Jerry’s wife) told me that Jerry would often invite students to share Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with them. Jerry liked all the students, but he paid special attention to those who were far away from home or had special needs. He took one Florida Seminole student under his wing and spent a lot of time with him. Who knows how many vulnerable young people he helped by simply letting them know that he and Sue cared about them?
Jerry won some awards for his work, but it was his basic decency and warmth that drew people to him. He had a quick wit and ready smile. He liked to say Cherokee phrases even if the pronunciation was just a little off, and the phrase sometimes took on an entirely different meaning
On a personal note, Jerry believed in me long before anyone else did. Jerry and the late Ancel Barr teamed up to help make campaign signs for John and me in l987. They teased each other, laughed and joked, as they ran all over the Cherokee Nation putting up signs. I was always grateful for their help. He was also my friend who, on more than one occasion, came out to Rocky Mountain (Mankiller’s home) to fix something when it was broken. Someone recently asked me if Jerry had ever been to my house. I laughed and said, "Yes, he has been in my house, and under my house."
Some people are blessed with long lives and others are taken too early. Jerry was just getting a little grey at the temple as he approached retirement age and a chance to spend more time tending his garden and being with his family. He loved being a husband, a father, a brother and a grandfather. And his family appreciated and loved him in return. Jerry’s family did not just include his wife and blood relatives, his sense of kinship and family extended to many of us in the room here today. Last night Sue said that despite health problems his heart was strong. His heart was strong and bigger than most. Jerry was always so busy taking care of other people he often did not have time to take care of himself.
Jerry was special in so many ways. He wasn’t afraid to express love or to extend a hand to help other people. There were few things better than a bear hug from Jerry.
He was scheduled to begin a grueling set of chemotherapy treatments, which would have placed an enormous amount of strain on him and his family. When he quietly slipped away, it occurred to me that he may have asked the Lord to just let him go on home to spare his family the pain of watching him suffer any more.
Our ancient Iroquois relatives believe that when a person dies, their spirit walks along the Milky Way to reach Heaven. I can easily imagine Jerry walking across the Milky Way, eyes wide in wonder, eagerly waiting to get to Heaven to be reunited with his brother, his mother and his father. Last night when I went to see him, he looked rested, content and at peace. At one point, I did a double take because it almost looked like he was softly smiling.
It is his family that now needs our prayers. As we leave here today and prepare for Thanksgiving with our families, let us all say a special prayer for Sue and the rest of Jerry’s family who will have an empty seat at the table tomorrow. They will need our support and friendship in the days and weeks to come. Let us also be thankful for his life and reflect on the precious gift of family and friends. Sometimes we get caught up in the busyness of life or focus on large issues and forget the importance of a simple act of kindness to others, something Jerry never, ever forgot.
Thank you and God bless you.