Dr. Dudley J. Thompson was an esteemed elder and statesman of tireless advocacy for the oppressed. To see him officiate an affair-whether as an ambassador or at the helm of the World Africa Diaspora Union and Umbrella Association (WADU)-was to witness the epitome of diplomacy and efficiency. That touch of grace and majesty was stilled Jan. 20, a day after his 95th birthday, at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.
“He had come to pass the baton of leadership to me,” said Dr. Leonard Jeffries, who is slated to succeed Thompson as the president of WADU. “We were coming down the stairs at his place when he complained about his feet. We were able to get him to my car and with his wife, Cecile; we rushed him to the hospital.”
Jeffries said that for more than an hour, doctors tried to revive him, but he didn’t make it.
That would be one of the few times the indefatigable Thompson didn’t make it, because no matter the event, conference, rally or meeting, he made it his business to get there on time. That acumen for punctuality was only exceeded by the sheer professionalism he brought to any occasion.
Right to the end of his remarkable life, Thompson was all about “taking care of business.” “When he came to see me prior to our birthday celebrations-my 75th and his 95th-he brought his computer with the intention of us working on his memoir,” Jeffries said.
Thompson’s memoir would entail just about every major social and political event in the 20th century, during which he was either a vital player, a passionate observer or an insightful and thorough commentator.
Born on Jan. 19, 1917, in Jamaica, Thompson earned a government scholarship to Mico Training College in Kingston, Jamaica, where he would subsequently become a headmaster before traveling to Great Britain to join the Royal Air Force (RAF). In the RAF during World War II, he was a highly decorated flight lieutenant in the Bomber Command.
When W.E.B. Du Bois helped organize the fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England, in 1945, Thompson was among the attendees. This event provided him contact with such future African leaders as Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Jomo Kenyatta. Prominent revolutionaries and activists such as George Padmore and C.L.R. James were also on the scene at that time and later became intimate associates.
According to an email from Dr. Akil Khalfani of Essex County College, where Thompson was scheduled to be honored, Thompson entered Oxford University, becoming Jamaica’s Rhodes Scholar. “He graduated with an MA in Jurisprudence and later obtained a BCL [Bachelor of Civil Law]. In 1950, Thompson was called to the Bar in London from Gray’s Inn. He did tutelage with Sir Dingle Foote, QC [subsequently solicitor general of the United Kingdom] and appeared with him before the Privy Council.”
In 1953, Thompson practiced as a barrister-at-law in East Africa, during which he was among a coterie of lawyers defending Kenyatta and his anti-colonial resistance.
Nine years later, he was an itinerant lawyer with clients all over the Caribbean and soon became president of the Jamaica Bar Association, a position he would hold for several years.
To cite only a portion of the various and sundry activities that filled his days with progressive political developments throughout the Diaspora is not possible here, but sections of his impressive resume include his membership in the Senate and the House of Representatives of Jamaica, and such cabinet posts as minister of mines and natural resources and foreign affairs were instrumental in his being awarded the Order of Jamaica, one of the country’s most prestigious honors, which sealed his legendary legacy.
Add to this the Mico Old Students’ Gold Medal, the most prestigious teacher’s award, and the Legend of Africa Award from the Organization of African Unity. “Up to the time of his appointment as ambassador to Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries, he was president of the Rhodes Scholars Society of Jamaica. In 1992, Thompson was empanelled as member of the Group of Eminent Persons, which is charged with implementing the Movement for Reparations to Africa and the Diaspora as a result of slavery and its effect. This Movement is under the auspices of OAU,” Khalfani added.
In 2008, he became president of WADU, in which Jeffries served as vice president.
“His funeral services will occur on Feb. 10 at Holy Trinity Church in Kingston, Jamaica,” Jeffries said. “I will be there as part of the WADU delegation.”
Thompson leaves to mourn his passing and to celebrate his life his widow, Cecile Eistrup nee Miller of Jamaica; his children, Josephine, Anthony “Tony,” Margaret, Kathy and Michelle; his grandchildren, Michael, Michelle and Benedict “Ben,” Louie Ray and Ella; and his great-grandchild, Syndi.