In Memoriam: Dolores Thompson, Kevin Thorbourne, Robert DeSimone

Photo of Dolores Thompson in 2008 by Katheryn Laible

Photo of Dolores Thompson taken in 2008 by Katheryn Laible

Three extraordinary souls that I happened to know passed on these last few months. I think part of why I’ve been slow to send a newsletter is because I’ve wanted to pay each one their proper respects. Unfortunately, I still haven’t processed enough to do that for Bill Bohn and another dear soul the world lost over a year ago. There’s so much to say about each of these folks. It’s going to take a while. I’ll tell you a little now and endeavor to properly memorialize each of these “Legends of LI” here soon.

Dolores Thompson

Dolores Thompson – What a force! She was introduced to me as “Queen Dee.” You didn’t have to squint too hard to see her crown. She was regal if she was anything. Tough as they come, she could bring you down with a look. Still, as one dear soul said, “If you didn’t love and respect her, you just didn’t know her that well.”

I’ve never had anyone so point-blank command that folks give a damn and love, breaking it all down as simply as possible for anyone who would listen.

Soon after Dee’s passing about a month ago, Cheryl Blum dug up roughly 30 years of news clippings charting Dee’s adventures as a committed advocate.  A true community Matriarch, Dee was a big reason why there’s a library in Huntington Station, and why the Dolan Family Health Center exists. I can’t even begin to fathom how many kids she impacted for the better as a champion of the Huntington Station Enrichment Center and the local Boys and Girl’s Club, as well as the local NAACP. Among the most ardent advocates Huntington Station has likely ever had, she was also a driving force and deep conscience for its BID (Business Improvement District). There was more…so much more…

Dee did things her own way, that’s for sure, even as she collaborated closely with any and everyone. Naming 2nd Avenue “Dee Thompson Way in her honor was simply putting a formal label on a street many had already long seen as hers. When the Huntington Awareness Day and its Unity in the Community parade were rained out, it felt like the heavens were joining the town in mourning, and knew folks weren’t quite ready to hold that event without her.

The last time I saw Dee, I got to give her a hug over a relatively simple yet deep request she’d had of the powers that be which seemed to take way too long to accomplish…a supermarket. She’d have loved to see it sooner, but was happy at least that it was finally done.

It was so good to see her. She was pure Dee that day, loaded with three more things she wanted accomplished: Improving a difficult corner, beautifying a major train station, and establishing a museum. She admonished me to go see the extraordinary collection of the Reverend Bernadette Watkins which was then on view at the Tri-CYA in Huntington Station for Black History Month. She hoped it would soon find a prominent home.

I am so glad to see this happening, and am sure there are others carrying a torch for the other two items. Grateful thanks and all the best to Melisa Rousseau and everyone involved now in establishing the Huntington African American Museum, and to all who collect and curate to preserve and better understand this important part of our heritage. I’m sure Dee’s watching over you.

Thank you, Ms Thompson, for all you did to serve your community. I’m sure I’m far from the only one who feels they’re a better person because of you. May those that follow make you proud.

Photo of Kevin W. Thorbourne helping spruce up the Coltrane Home.
Kevin in one of his fine hats helping to spruce up the Coltrane Home in 2021.

Kevin Thorbourne

Kevin Thorbourne passed suddenly last summer. It’s still hard to believe he’s really gone. He was not the kind of guy to toot his own horn. However, the first time I encountered him he did explain that he had recently written a tell-all about himself and invited me to read it if I would. Harlem Son is a beautiful, raw, thoughtful, incredibly honest story of life in the city and LI suburbs, starting in the 1950s. It includes observations on local and national events as an African American man, as well as reflections on his personal journey: Triumphs, challenges, missteps, love, appreciation and redemption. 

It’s an inspiring and thought provoking read.

Kevin was the first new friend I made when Ron Stein and others got me involved in the effort to save the Coltrane home in Dix Hills. He was passionate about his church, fine men’s clothing, the political scene, and his personal mission to honor and document Jazz musicians wherever he could find them, sometimes pulling them straight out of obscurity.

I was apparently not alone in finding Kevin to be the most Coltrane of all the Coltrane volunteers, even though I never heard him play an instrument. It was his open heart and mind that reminded us of that legend, his very human commitment to being a “force for good,” and his earnest desire to learn everything he could, especially regarding jazz musicians.

Kevin’s capacity for self-reflection and improvement was only outdone by his indefatigable care for things beyond himself. A professional mediator for many years, he was a natural at being “the oil in troubled water.”  As a Coltrane volunteer, Kevin was known for being the perfect person to consult with when things got stressful. Never dull, it was amazing to listen to him talk to others about whatever they happened to be an expert in. Kevin asked great questions and always seemed to have something profound, grounding, or just plain thoughtful to say.

I think maybe what I’ll miss most is that smile he had that instantly warmed the soul. 

It was a great honor and pleasure to work with Kevin, and to get to call him friend.  He is deeply missed and appreciated.

Photo of Robert DeSimone on an balcony in a tuxedo with a cigar.

Robert DeSimone

Robert DeSimone was my classmate in the Leadership Huntington Class of 2001. A lion of a man, we were never quite sure he got the whole “leading from behind” thing that was really the thrust of this community leadership organization. Still, he was an enthusiastic participant. He definitely made a deep contribution, reminding us that there are people in this world who are simply natural born leaders. Ones with good hearts and minds to match their powerful charismas at that.

Robert’s good-natured advocacy of this fact led him ultimately to be dressed in a toga with a makeshift wreath of laurel on his head as he took on the role of Julius Caesar in a series of skits that were part of the class. I hope to someday locate and transcribe the video of them. Until then, I’ll treasure the memory.

Last I spoke to Robert was maybe ten years ago. He was thinking about his girls, who’d been adopted from Ukraine. He was ardently searching the world for their sister, whom he eventually found. He was also excited about work he was doing to get major corporate leaders to understand their enlightened self-interest and thus adjust their business practices to help save us all.

Trudy and I wanted to get him to do something with Leadership…to talk about these and other things he was passionate about. He was enthusiastic, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. I always hoped I’d catch him around again sometime, but I guess that wasn’t in the cards, either. He is dearly missed.

 

To all out there who also knew and loved these folks, thank you for appreciating them. I’d love to hear your memories.

In Memoriam: Ken Christensen

From Left: Ken Christensen, Libby Hubbard, Craig Riger, Dianne Parker, Lou Giordano at a Leadership Huntignton Founders Dinner in 2014

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” ~Google tells me this quote is attributed to Nelson Henderson but to me it belongs to Ken Christensen, who spoke those words often and took them deeply to heart.

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