David Lauderdale

Hilton Head community made healthier by Porter Thompson's outlook

Porter Thompson with his wife, Barre, left, and pro golfer Nancy Lopez at Moss Creek. An LPGA Tour event was played there from 1976 to 1985.
Porter Thompson with his wife, Barre, left, and pro golfer Nancy Lopez at Moss Creek. An LPGA Tour event was played there from 1976 to 1985. Special to the Packet

Porter Thompson regaled friends by going line by line through the Hilton Head Island phone book, pronouncing each name in a different national dialect.

In the old days, he staged a social event known as a Norwich Terrier Drag Hunt on the beach at Painted Bunting Road. The trophy was a beer stein shaped like a fire hydrant.

He once stood at the city editor's desk in The Island Packet newsroom, pitching a story for an advertising client or a charity, when he suddenly sneezed into a handkerchief. He turned around to reveal a string of dangling fake mucous.

Everyone who knew Thompson has a story about how he made them laugh. And at one time, everyone on Hilton Head knew the portly, soft-spoken man who died Monday at 72.

His Wisconsin parents bought property in Sea Pines when it was mostly trees. Porter began visiting in the 1960s and moved here in 1972. He became a writer for Sea Pines, shaping tales of local lore that today line the steps to the top of the Harbour Town Lighthouse.

He worked at several public relations agencies, edited Islander magazine and did marketing for Moss Creek and many others.

He did serious things -- like his military service as a spy, and taking a turn as head of the $19-million campaign to get what is now known as the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina built. Among the many charities he helped are The Deep Well Project, Penn Center and Hospice Care of the Lowcountry.

His close friends say he was a complex man with great intellect.

Yet, his true gift was putting people at ease and making them feel better, usually through laughter. He did not take everything so seriously. If you want to see what a rare and wondrous gift that is, read our letters to the editor.

In the 1970s, Thompson co-chaired a community fundraiser called Tomfoolery. His friend Stuart Silver remembers Thompson coming on stage as a 100-year-old man found in the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. He was asked, "What do you think of condominiums?" He answered, "I never use them."

From Tomfoolery erupted the Phart-O-Phonics "classical gas wind ensemble" with his friend Tim Doughtie. It was four "musicians" dressed in tuxedoes and tennis shoes, with Thompson playing a "four-in-one feminine hygiene bag" and Doughtie on the "strained baby-food injector." They made perfectly normal people laugh -- eventually performing on the TV shows, "Real People" and "America's Funniest People."

But Thompson's life was not a barrel of monkeys. He struggled with the early deaths of his wife, Barre, and his dear friend, Doughtie.

And he was never a picture of health.

But he made the community he loved healthier. He showed us that serious contributions can be made with a smile.

We need more Porter Thompsons.

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