Today I have something sad to share. Someone I know who was a friend who had moved away passed away suddenly from a heart attack in June, and I did not know until today. His name was Chris Thompson. I thought he deserved more than a paid obituary locally so I have decided to write something today. He was a really good guy and extraordinarily talented.
A lot of you would remember him as Christopher Arthur Thompson as the former Director of Land Preservation from 2006 to 2009 at the Willistown Conservation Trust.
Or simply as Chris Thompson who lived in Berwyn. Or as in Chris Thompson who used to own a sustainable food business, a true farm to table venture called Panache Foods.
To me he was just Chris, father of Alexandra and Margaret. He was the former husband of my dear high school friend Sandra Hitschler Thompson (also Shipley 1981). He and Sandra had divorced after their move back to the Midwest around 2011, and at his death he was married to Jennifer Drackley Thompson. To all of them I send love and condolences. The dynamics of couples you know change over time, but that doesn’t mean you stop being their friends or thinking about people and remembering them fondly. Such is how I feel about Chris. He was just a good guy.
Writing about the death of someone you knew and liked is so darn difficult. I liked Chris a great deal and his former wife and daughters will always be close to my heart. When I heard about his passing I thought not only of his career in land stewardship and conservation, but his art. Chris was an accomplished artist and his work hung all over the Midwest and East Coast. His art was powerful and lyrical and always blew me away.
Christopher Arthur Thompson, 56, late of Three Oaks, MI and formerly of Berwyn, PA Joliet, Ill., passed away suddenly on Friday, June 3, 2016.
Born January 27, 1960 in Joliet, he was the son of Arthur and Marilyn (Smith) Thompson. Surviving are his wife, Jennifer Thompson; two daughters, Alexandra and Margaret; his mother, Marilyn Thompson of Joliet, IL; two brothers, Jeff (Nancy) Thompson of Joliet, and David (Carla) Thompson of Coal City, IL; one sister, Marianne (Joe) Haake of Joliet; his former wife, Sandra Hitschler Thompson; and several nieces and nephews.
Chris was previously employed by Willistown Conservation Trust, and worked as Executive Director of the Chikaming Open Lands Conservancy in Sawyer, MI for the last five years. Chris Thompson joined Chikaming Open Lands in 2011 at the conclusion of a nationwide search for an executive director.
He was also the former owner of Panache Foods which was based in Berwyn, PA until a move back to the Midwest in 2011.
Panache Foods offered locally sourced local Chef prepared foods and offered CSA boxes seasonally. Panache had partnered with Kimberton Whole Foods at the time and local Chefs like Chef Francis Pascal (Trzeciak) of the Birchrunville Store Café and introduced me to my now friend Deb Street Davitt of MacDougall’s Irish Victory Cakes. I had actually photographed the launch of this business at the time, and my friend Caroline O’Halloran wrote about it when she was with Main Line Media News.
I mention this business not to diminish any other aspects of my late friend’s career but because this business at the time was at the head of the class when it came to CSA and locally sourced food. The so called Locavore movement was just revving up in our area when this business began in my opinion. There weren’t many businesses like this in existence if at all at the time. There were folks who were offering CSA shares, but not a direct to the consumer’s home business like this. This wasn’t pizza delivery, it was much more and they offered catering connections and introductions as well. It is through Panache I also made the acquaintance of the now very popular Chef Jennifer McCafferty, owner of JPM Catering in Ardmore, PA.
For 18 years while living in the Chicago area, Chris owned Event Management. He offered many jobs to local youth who helped him with the Food and Beverage at the Taste of Chicago. Those were challenging, but very fun times. That was part of the inspiration later in his life for Panache Foods.
He attended Joliet Catholic High School and received his undergraduate degree in Art and Anthropology, and Masters of Fine Arts degree from Northwestern University.
Chris, as I mentioned, was an accomplished artist. He was the recipient of the Scholastic Gold Key Award, a Scholastic National Gold Medal for painting, the Rotary International Scholarship for Art, the Ford Foundation Arts Fellowship, the Quita Brodhead Memorial Award from the Wayne Art Center, and the Squirrel Gallery Award of Excellence. Now as a related aside, the Squirrel Gallery was the brainchild of the late mother of my friend Averil Smith Barone (also an accomplished artist) named Valerie Lamb Smith.
Chris will be remembered for his dedication to preserving the natural beauty of both Chester County and Southwest Michigan and his appreciation for the arts. He was a wonderful husband, father, son, brother, athlete and most of all friend. He loved life and was a warm and welcoming and inclusive person by nature. He was so truly multi-faceted that on some levels he could be considered a true Renaissance man.
Chris was also a Board member of Michigan’s Heart of the Lakes Center for Land Conservation Policy.
Memorials in his name may be directed to the Chikaming Open Lands Conservancy. For information please call (815) 741-5500 or follow their donation and gift instructions on their website.
Father, artist, husband, friend, conservationist. Chris Thompson was that and so much more. He will be missed. Rest in Peace, Chris.