Memories of the widely known Miami Herald humor columnist recently lived again for campers at Larry and Penny Thompson Park in southwest Miami- Dade County.
“My dad and mom would have loved this place,” said Carl Thompson, son of the couple and guest of honor for the campground’s 35th anniversary celebration on Nov. 24.
Thompson and his wife, Dawn, had driven their recreational vehicle 600-plus miles from the couple’s Tennessee home for the weekend to mark the special occasion along with the visiting winter crowd of campers at the 270-acre park
For more than an hour, Thompson regaled the audience in the campground’s clubhouse with stories and pictures recalling his family’s love of camping while growing up in Miami. He also talked about the hilarity for which his father’s column became famous in South Florida as well as nationally through published books.
“I guess you would call him the Dave Barry of his day,” said Carl, once a newspaper reporter at The Herald who later began a 30-year career in finance to head what became an internationally known investment firm in Colorado.
Now retired, Thompson proudly returned to the camp named for his parents, both avid campers who championed preservation as active civic leaders during the latter half of the 20th Century.
The park land bearing their names was once part of the Richmond Naval Air Station, acquired in December 1974 by the county as part of 1,010 acres later transferred from the federal government to include the current ZooMiami property.
The park later was designated to be named in honor of the Thompsons in recognition for their zeal in beautification and wildlife causes. This occurred just a few years after February 1973 when Larry Thompson, who wrote daily columns for 23 years, died.
Going on camping trips with his two sisters were only part of growing up in Coconut Grove, Carl recalled, noting how his father would turn his family life into laughter in print under the title “Life with Larry and Penny Thompson.”
“Even Caesar, our Siamese cat, became quite famous that led to my Dad’s first book, Life with Caesar,” Thompson said. “I remember that Burdines downtown store had a book signing. Caesar pressed his paw print on the title page, next to dad’s signature.
“Dad held a Fat Cat contest back in 1965 and wound up on The Herald’s Orange Bowl Parade float, riding this enormous cat some 25 feet above street level throughout the hourlong route that circled Biscayne Boulevard and continued down Flagler Street.
“The float turned out as the night’s biggest hit during the parade’s first national telecast and was featured right to the end during the finishing credits — and just an hour after the parade ended, a short-circuit zapped the cat and the entire float burned up!”
Animal stories delighted Thompson as subjects for light-hearted experiences often retold from family camping trips on his portable black Remington typewriter that his son presented to Parks director Jack Kardys as a memento of the special 35- year park anniversary program.
“His columns were clipped out of the paper by parents and saved for children and grandchildren to read in later years,” Thompson said. “He told us to respect other people, but above all, to respect yourself…
“But most of all, I remember that Dad always seemed to have a smile on his face,” Carl Thompson added.