As a crowd of more than 50 laughed at stories about Larry Thompson’s exploits, a permanent historical exhibit of the former Miami Herald humor columnist was dedicated on Dec. 2 at the Miami-Dade County park that has borne the Larry and Penny Thompson Memorial Park and Campground name since 1977.
Carl Thompson, son of the former columnist, marked the occasion in the park’s Cabana Recreation Center before a large audience of campers. Also paying tribute was Kim Yantis, exhibit specialist at the Deering Estate, who managed the exhibit project, now on view in the campground office at 12451 SW 184 St.
“Dad began as a reporter with The Herald in 1945,” recounted Thompson, 59, visiting the park for the occasion with his wife, Dawn, from Tennessee. (Carl Thompson also began as a reporter for the Hollywood Sun-Times and for a year “off The Herald city desk,” he recalled before switching to a successful business career in later life.)
“In 1977, I remember standing not 100 yards from this center to help dedicate the park in honor of my dad and mom,” he said. “Never did I think then I would be here today for this special moment.”
“Life with Larry Thompson” was a daily feature in the newspaper that often traced the lives of a family that “grew up in Coconut Grove but often took camping trips during the 1950s and 1960s while my two sisters and I were growing up.”
Those stories were most often typewritten on a 1941 “Remington Noiseless,” now an exhibit centerpiece along with Larry’s tri-focal eyeglasses, a nameplate and original letters, books and memorabilia.
It includes an 11- by 14-inch photo of Thompson riding a famed “Fat Cat” in an Orange Bowl Parade, emblematic of the family’s pet, Caesar, and other heavyweight felines to determine Miami’s fattest cat that year in a Thompson-originated stunt.
Larry Thompson (1911-1973), columnist for 25 years, and wife, Penny (1917-1975), a leader in women’s aviation during the 1940s and early 1950s, often took their family on cross-country camping trips. Both were advocates of creating additional parks and planting more trees and shrubs throughout Miami-Dade.
“When the county gained this parkland in 1964, my dad even wrote a column urging that no one be named for it, a practice he was generally against,” Carl Thompson noted, reading from the original piece. Ironically, the column’s finishing words written 11 years before his passing with a typical Larry Thompson chuckle: “Unless, of course, it would be named for me.”