The obituary was short, simple, and to the point.
B. Ray Thompson Jr., who died of a stroke on June 29 at the age of 88, was a man who loved “the Lord Jesus, his wife, his family, and the under-served children of Southern Appalachia,” the obituary read.
The obituary went on to say that Thompson was survived by his wife of 63 years, Juanne, five children and 10 grandchildren, among other family and friends.
The obituary was, of course, just as Thompson would have wanted it. But the obituary could have said so much more.
Most of his charitable contributions were never spoken of publicly — not with his name attached, at least — because he didn’t want the attention, nor did he want the credit. But it could be argued that B. Ray Thompson Jr. did more for Scott County’s children, from a collective and financial standpoint, than anyone else in history.
Thompson’s father — B. Ray Thompson Sr. — was a Scott County native and a highly successful businessman who made a fortune in the coal industry. It is his name that is affixed to the University of Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville. Once the largest basketball-specific facility in the nation, the university was set to name it for Thompson alone, given his significant contributions to the project. But Thompson refused to take sole credit for the facility and agreed to have his name on it only if UT president Dr. Ed Boling would share the honor.
That selfless approach was handed down to his oldest son. The family moved from Scott County to Knoxville when B. Ray Thompson Jr. was just two, but he returned often in his youth. He would at times catch a train to Oneida, where he would visit his grandmother’s home off Alberta Street and take in movies at the old Capital Theater downtown. And he never forgot his Scott County roots.
It was with B. Ray Thompson Sr. that the stage was set for the Elgin Foundation, named for Thompson’s hometown of Elgin, just south of Robbins. Overseen by B. Ray Thompson Jr., the Elgin Foundation has served tens of thousands of underprivileged children in East Tennessee, southeastern Kentucky and southwestern Virginia — many of them here in the family’s Scott County home.
B. Ray Thompson Jr. served as president of the Elgin Foundation until his death. You don’t have to look far to see evidence of the work done by Thompson and the Elgin Foundation in Scott County. Much of it is through the programs of the Appalachian Life Quality Initiative (ALQI), which is funded by the Elgin Foundation.
Just to name a few of the ways in which Thompson contributed to Scott County: he provided the single largest donation for the Boys & Girls Club of the Cumberland Plateau, provided the funding that started the Scott County Dental Clinic for Children in Huntsville, funded ALQI’s office and the Salvation Army program, started the Agape Christian Learning Center, funded the start of a telemedicine program here, and partnered with Howard Tibbals to fund new schools in Oneida in the 1990s.
There’s no way to put an exact monetary figure on the contributions B. Ray Thompson Jr. made in Scott County. Just know that it runs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Collectively, those contributions touched every aspect of the lives of children here, from education to after-school activities to dental health to literacy.
Scott County has been fortunate to claim as its sons highly successful businessmen who never forgot their roots after making their fortunes. Those men — like Thompson and Tibbals — were driven by their desire to see their hometowns break the bonds of poverty, just as they were able to do. They didn’t ask for credit and never claimed it.
The obituary never said it, but — as the late Paul Harvey might have — this is the rest of the story.