Walter D.”Tom” Thomson II, whose family history has roots in two Delaware County icons, the Delaware Gazette newspaper and the Little Brown Jug harness race, died January 20, 2012.
Thomson, 73, died at home, surrounded by his family. He had been ill for several months.
Thomson served as president and publisher of The Delaware Gazette until his retirement in 2001 and had been racing director for the Little Brown Jug for nearly 40 years.
Thomson was the fifth generation of his family to work at the family-owned Gazette, the longest continuously-owned newspaper in the United States. It was purchased by Thomson’s great-great grandfather in 1836. Thomson, who started out as a newspaper delivery boy, eventually saw his two sons – the sixth generation – take over operation of the paper. The family eventually sold The Gazette in 2004.
Under Thomson’s leadership, the Gazette became a statewide leader among county-seat daily newspapers in news gathering, printing and distribution. During the 1990’s, the Gazette was recognized 26 times by the Associated Press for outstanding news operations. In addition, Thomson’s stable of writers, editors and reporters earned dozens of honors and awards.
Thomson had a number of accomplishments throughout his life including President of the Ohio Newspaper Association from 1996-97 where he served on the Board of Directors for many years. He received the association’s lifetime achievement award in 2001. He was Past President of the Ohio League of Home Daily’s. Also, in 2001 Governor Bob Taft recognized the Thomson family as the 'First Family of Ohio Newspapers' award. Thomson was a lifelong member of the First Presbyterian Church in Delaware. In his youth Thomson was awarded the rank of Eagle Scout.
“He believed very strongly in the power of press and the value to a community of having a strong local voice for the people,” said his son, Henry Clay “Chip” Thomson, who with his brother, Thomas Thurman “T” Thomson, succeeded his father at the Gazette.
Likewise, the Little Brown Jug traces much of its success to Thomson’s visionary approach. Following in the footsteps of his late father, Henry C. “Hank” Thomson, Thomson pointed the Jug toward the 21st Century, modernizing the pacing classic without it losing its quaint, Delaware County fair charm and rich tradition.
Associated with the fair since he was a 16-year-old “errand boy,” Thomson directed all facets of racing since 1973. “He oversaw everything that made the Jug one of the most recognized sporting events in the world,” son T Thomson said.
In the 1980’s, Thomson was instrumental in modernizing the fair’s wagering system, infrastructure and was the driving force in the building of the all-weather track. He also brought regional and national television exposure to the Jug and the Delaware community. Thomson proudly guarded the race’s 60-plus years of history and customs, while continuing to oversee upgrades to the Delaware racing facility.
“My approach has always been if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” Thomson said in 2005. “There is a lot to tradition, but if it needs to be changed because the sport has changed, I’m willing to listen.”
Thomson was in his 10th term as a Delaware County Fair Board Member, having served continuously since 1970. After the passing his father in 1994, he served as president of the Little Brown Society, which operated the race for the county fair. He also served the racing industry for 13 years as president of the Grand Circuit, harness racing ‘major league,’ and was a trustee of the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame in Goshen, N.Y.
Thomson was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Goshen in 2006, joining his father, who was inducted in 1989. In 2005, he again joined his father in the Ohio Harness Hall of Fame.
Thomson was proud of his Delaware home, living in Delaware all his life. After graduating from Willis High School in 1956, he went on to graduate from The Ohio State University School of Journalism where he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity. Thomson was a Member of the Delaware Eagles 376 and the Delaware Elks 76. In one his last public appearances in October 2011, Thomson was inducted into the Delaware City Schools Academic Hall of Fame and received a Distinguished Alumni Award.
Born Walter Dunlap Thomson II on January 28, 1938 to Henry Clay Thomson II and Lillian Tracewell Thomson. Thomson is preceded in death by his parents, his sister Joy Thomson, and his first wife, Helen Ufferman Thomson. Thomson is survived by his wife, Sherry K. Thomson, sister, Deborah Thomson Markwith, daughters Christine Thomson Cawley, Cheryl Thomson Wright, sons, Henry Clay “Chip” Thomson, Thomas Thurman “T” Thomson, sons-in law, Thomas Wright and William Cawley, daughters-in-law, Margaret Oliver Thomson and Lisa Lunney Thomson. Tom is survived by 10 grandchildren, Thomas Hunter Wright, Madison Joy Wright, Mackenzie Lyn Wright, Mary Kathryn Cawley, Cheryl Thomson Cawley, Walter D. “Clay” Thomson, Susan Oliver Thomson, Helen Ufferman Thomson, Zachary Abram Thomson and Sarah Glynn Thomson.
The family will receive friends on January 28, 2012 from 12:00-2:00pm at Asbury United Methodist Church in Delaware. Memorial services officiated by Rev. Deborah Patterson will follow at 2:00 p.m. Private burial will be held at Oak Grove Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made in Tom’s memory to The Delaware County Fair, 236 Pennsylvania Ave., Delaware, OH 43015 or The Harness Racing Hall of Fame and Museum, 240 Main St., Goshen, NY 10924.
Arrangements are being handled by Robinson’s Funeral Home. Condolences may be expressed online at: www.robinsonfuneralhomeinc.com.