In memory of
Gary L. Thompson, 69 of Avon Lake, formerly of Bedford, Valley City and Lakewood; passed away Sunday, June 14, 2020 surrounded by his loving family. Gary was born October 5, 1950 to parents Edwin and Madelyn Thompson.
Gary was a graduate of Cleveland Heights High School and retired from Conrail where he was an Assistant Chief Dispatcher for the Eastern US. He was also an avid hot rod mechanic with a love for motorcycles, and member of the BMW Motorcycle Owners of Cleveland and the Antique Motorcycle Club of America. He enjoyed traveling to the Finger Lakes and Lake George in New York, as well as motorcycle rallies as far as South Dakota and Florida. But above all, he loved being a dad and a grandpa. Gary was very proud of being sober for 25 years and for the support and tools that were given to him by his friends in the AA program.
He is survived by his loving children Lee, Ben (Samantha) and Kayla; cherished granddaughter Adeline "JoJo"; dear girlfriend Linda Miller and her son Bryan Miller who called Gary his "Pop Pop"; close friends Dana Webb and Kevin Novotny; sister Patricia Trivisonno.
He is preceded in death by his brother Edwin "Eddie".
Memorial contributions may be forwarded to Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland (https://www.aacle.org/donate/) or The Cleveland Clinic (https://my.clevelandclinic.org/giving).
Memorial gathering to be held at the Pine Tree Picnic Area in the French Creek Reservation in Sheffield Village, at 1:00pm on Saturday, July 18, 2020. Please note the memorial will be held outside, and all applicable social distancing guidelines will be adhered to.
Pine Tree Picnic Area
4951 French Creek Rd.
Sheffield Village, OH 44054
Autobiography of Gary L. Thompson
Authored in 1996
Born Oct. 5, 1950, in Marymount Hospital, Garfield Heights, Ohio. Then went home to where I grew up for the first 12 years of my life. 127 Wandle Ave, Bedford, Ohio, the next street north of Broadway, the Bedford Auto Mile. Now, having children of my own, some of my early memories come back to me from time to time...
I can faintly remember waking up on my mom's shoulders, downtown in some department store. I can remember downtown Cleveland, being amazed at the smell of burnt electric, the cables hanging over the streets, and the buses with the poles on the back, touching the cables and sparking, and the smell. At 5 years old, I had a sore throat and ear aches, it turns out that my body put out too much ear wax, and one of my ear drums was covered with ear wax, was removed with hot soapy water by the doctor. It was about the size of ½ of a pea skin. Looked like it too, except it was brown. Then I had my tonsils removed at Bedford Hospital. I remember being put under by ether, they were talking to me until I went out, and all I saw was a spinning swirl in black and white. When I awoke at the hospital, I got ice cream. It wasn't a bad experience.
In the 1950's my dad had a used car lot on Miles Ave. He was always bringing home different cars. My mom would really like some, so she would keep it for 6 months or a year, if I remember correctly. A couple of cars I remember that we didn't keep were a bright red 57 T-bird with fins and a pink '57 Plymouth convertible. My dad liked big Nash's and Buicks. All the '50's Buicks had the model and year on the emblem on the trunk. That is how I got to identify all the cars at a young age. Sometimes us kids and mom would visit dad at the car lots. Because I was small, he would have me crawl under the dashboard of some cars, to remove the radio tubes, so he could test them and replace them if necessary. If the tube did not glow, that's the one I took out. I still enjoy under-dash work, but I'm getting too fat for that now.
It had to be about 1958 or earlier, our family took a trip to Dearborn, Michigan to settle my grandfather's estates. It was the first time I saw the big trucks that carry the new cars. There were a lot of them, all carrying new Edsels, and I was amazed that these new cars had 4 headlights and a funny grille.
In my neighborhood, I had plenty of friends my own age to play with. We used to go to the side door (in summer), just knock and sing, "Oooh-Stevie". The mom or friend, or someone in the family would answer. We played baseball in the back yards, kick the can, cowboys, and army. We did everything in the back yards, either one side of the street or another. Always had good times on Halloween with costumes. On New Year's Eve I can remember all our parents over at the Lemmon's house, they were just a bit older than most our parents, and had daughters, either high school or college age. So we kids didn't know the Lemmons very well, but I can remember sliding down the driveway with the rest of hte kids, while our parents were inside for New Year's Eve.
Some time after that my dad sold the car lot, and started working at J+L steel, a steel mill in Cleveland. I know now, as an adult, that the economy went bad, my dad was laid off for awhile, and went to work as a painter. He painted houses, did murals and also painted portraits. He was an artist, and I found out, went to art school in the 1930's. It wasn't long 'til my dad was called back to work at the mill, and there he stayed until he retired.
I had an interest in cars, always built models, and remember early hot rods with red wheels (about 1960 or so, the style changed to black wheels). We kids used to ride our bikes to the auto mile and in the early fall, went to the back of the dealerships to look at the new model changes of all the different cars.
It was about 1962 or so when my parents decided to move. I didn't want to go, but it turned out OK. We moved out to the country, Valley City, Ohio--in Medina county. I wished then that my parents would explain about deeds, mortgages and such, so I would have had a better background when I bought my first home. I plan to teach my kids, if they are interested. My older brother told me it would be a lot of farmers in blue jeans, and sure enough, at school in the fall a couple of kids weren't at the beginning weeks of school because they had livestock or a tractor at the Ohio state fair! But most everybody was just like me and my sister. (My brother didn't move with us, he joined the Air Force. I can still remember my parents worry during the Cuban Missile Crisis). We were about 1 mile from the strip on Rt. 303. There was Dobson's market, a small grocery store, and if we couldn't make it before the store closed, mom would call Mr. Dobson with what she wanted, and he would leave it in a box at the side of the building for us.
As I got into Jr. high school, I rode my bike or hitchhiked to friends' homes, and we even expanded our horizons because our friends lived in Litchfield, or Chatham (all at the same school thought). My sister had a friend the next road over--Crocker Rd, her name was Nancy Crocker, lived on a huge dairy farm. I remember her because to me, she looked like the Nancy Crocker picture on the baking boxes at the grocery store. Being older, sometimes we guys would stay overnight at each other's homes. I can remember Roger in Litchfield, he lived with his grandparents on a small dairy farm, a few times we helped bale hay or walk the milk in stainless steel pails to a clean white room, attached to the old dirty barn, and poured the pail into a huge stainless steel vat. The next day a milk truck would come, drain the vats, and pay his grandparents in cash! Once or twice when staying over, we would go out to the barn and get fresh warm milk to pour on our cherries. I can remember some of the big old farm houses, with real tall and skinny windows, with plastic drapes. We all played baseball, each little town had a ball diamond.
I remember our new house in Valley City, my parents bought it from the people who owned Hopkins Interiors in Brunswick (Brunswick was the big city back then). It was a ranch house with a basement, a big ranch, because I was able to run in the basement. The 55 acre square of woods behind the home I think belonged to a neighbor who worked for NASA. It was forest, not farmland, but most all the other places around were level and farmed. We were just some of the first people from the city to move out there, but it is all built up now. About 14 or 15 years of age, I worked some for a neighbor installing cisterns and septic tanks. Mostly digging and handling concrete blocks. With the money I saved I bought a Vespa motor scooter. Broken clutch, and I had to push start it. Being a kid, and no money for gas, I would use everything in my dad's garage. Some gas from the lawn mower, oil, auto trans fluid, even alcohol from the bathroom and some of my mom's perfume. I wasn't drivers license age, but used to ride up and down the road and fields, there wasn't any traffic or police. I wasn't always in the country, every summer (and of course the winter holidays we'd visit) we used to stay at my grandmothers for 2 weeks, when my parents went on vacation, or they just stayed home. Grandma's was great, all the fuss they make over you, all the toys she bought us. (Most toys stayed at grandma's so we would have them to play with when we visited. We kept them nice and always stored most in their original boxes in grandma's pantry or basement.)
After I grew into my teens and twenties the toys were handed down to my cousins' children, which is a pretty good way to do things, I think now. (I did keep my Lionel HO Train that I got for Christmas at Grandma's, and I still have it). One Saturday, at my grandmother's I was watching Saturday morning cartoons with my sister. I saw a monkey on the front porch. We grabbed a banana and tried to catch the monkey. Ended up chasing him up the street to Cedar and Lee roads, where he went into a basement window of a store. My sister and I finally convinced the store person that there was a monkey in the basement, he led us down there, the monkey was up in the rafters (low ceiling). I stood on a box to offer him the banana, so I could grab him, and the monkey bit me on the thumb. I was upset, hurt and bleeding and Grandma called the ambulance to take me to the hospital. As it turned out, ther monkey was a pet of someone down the block. I did get to visit the monkey once, and there also was a parrot there. I read the article in the newspaper "MONKEY BITES BOY", and that's how I learned about journalism, because the newspaper story was nothing like what really happened. I still have the newspaper clipping, my brother found it for me at my Dad's after he passed away.
Anyway, grandmas are great, all the memories, the front porch, the friends and neighbors, the stories she used to tell (as we got to be young adults we questioned her). She remembered washing clothes and cooking food in the same cast iron pot, when she was growing up. She always liked my beard, said her father also had a beard. She never learned to drive, she gave up when she tried out a Model T and hit the junk cart a few times. She never drank, said that when the river flooded her parents took her to a neighbor, gave her a hot toddy to warm her up, and says she saw 2 fires at the neighbor's home. That was enough for her. When we were young she smoked Pall Mall cigarettes, but quit when she had trouble going to sleep one night, on account of someone whistling--she found out it was her, when she was breathing. She never smoked after that and lived to be 96 years old. When we visited she would give us 5 or 10 dollars, I would save all my money and lend it to my mom or sister and charge interest.
Back at Valley City, I was close to 16 years of age, ready for my drivers license. Me and most of my friends were really into cars, there were a lot around. I learned to drive on a 1949 Ford pickup truck and a 1953 Buick Riviera. Two weeks before my 16th birthday I called and made my drivers test appointment on my birthday and passed and got my license. My mom thought we would run errands for her, and sometimes drive to school, but when I got one of the cars, I was gone. I've only played baseball 5 or 10 times since I got a drivers license at 16.
I bought my first car before I was 17 years old, it was a 1959 Singer convertible. A small English car (easy to afford and fuel), a Singer is to a Hillman as a Mercury is to a Ford. I did my own title transfer and such, as I knew about these things from my parents, they always bought and sold some cars at various times, even after my dad got out of the car business. My 2nd car was a hot rod 1955 chevy, which I worked on a lot, never got tired of driving or racing it. But I wanted a late model super car. I finally had to sell the '55 because my aunt was going to give me a 1961 Plymouth Fury. She gave me the car in early '68 with only 17,000 miles on it. I always wanted it, and always bugged her for it, since she got it new in 1961. I had that car and others but kept the Plymouth til about 1974, when I finally lost interest in it.
I've always worked, worked at Quick's Car Wash behind Parmatown Mall, parking attendant and dishwasher at Greentree Restaurant at Pearl & W130th, in my early teen years. Late teens, our family moved back to the city, my mom found she had cancer (a form of leukemia) and wanted to be close to her brothers and sister, and old school friends.
We moved to University Heights, close even to my Grandmother's in Cleveland Heights. I even went to Cleveland Heights high school, the same school my parents graduated from. My first time at my new high school, I saw, in the main entrance, brass plaques with the names of the alumni that gave their lives in the 1st World War, 2nd World War, Korean War, and some from Viet Nam. The next school year, those plaques for the Viet Nam War filled the rest of the wall, and were starting to cover the other wall, which just had sports awards the year before. I can remember reading the newspaper, and there was always 1 or 2 pages of pictures and names of the guys that got killed in Viet Nam. Also the 6 O'clock news always had some battle scenes, interviews, a monk setting himself on fire. What was going on here?
I knew I would be drafted after high school, I didn't want to go to Viet Nam, but all my life I knew I would go into the military because that was part of growing up and being an American. I was working in a grocery store during high school and the summer after graduating I was called for my pre-induction physical. At the Federal Building, small world, I ran into a friend of mine from the 1950's who I grew up with in Bedford. Anyway, months after that I got the notice in the mail, that I was classified 4-F on account of my vision. I was relieved, and started to look for a better job. Being an unthinking teenager, the way we looked for jobs was the newspaper, and stopped at all the factories we thought we would like to work at. Especially the ones that had the late model cars in the parking lots, figured they paid better.
My mother passed away in June of 1970, just before I was 20 years old. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me, she was my mom, and always there for me, loved me like a son, and loved my older brother and sister too. It was expected though, we knew for 4 years, but she was good until the last 3 weeks of her life. She never got to see any of her grandchildren, but I know she had us, and had a good, full life. I can remember her stories about growing up--was an usherette at the Palace Theatre, worked at Nela Park, helped on the development of the sealed beam headlight in the '30's. Played trumpet in school. Her dad, my grandfather died in 1943, her mom in 1959.
Not long after that I married the girls I was going steady with. I was 20, she 18, she set it all up, and we were married in Monroe, Michigan. Just before marriage, a friend told me and another friend that because of a UPS strike, the railroad was hiring. Sounded good to me. Me and my buddy went to Collinwood to the Roadforeman's office, and took a test with about 30+ other people. After the test, it was announced that you could stay and take another test, because if you were hired, it would help in promotions. ½ of the people left, I think most that stayed for the 2nd test were hired. I started out at either $3.20 per hour or $3.25 per hour, about the same as I made at the grocery store. I spent 2 weeks loading 60lb bags of mail into railroad cars at the Post Office annex, on the lakefront in Cleveland. I knew it wasn't for me, and found how to bid on other jobs in the railroad. My bid was accepted to be a tower operator, which was a hold over from the telegraph days. I always wondered how those crews and trains found their way to Toledo, Elkhart, Pittsburgh, Buffalo and other places, now I was learning. After qualifying at all the towers in Cleveland, I bid on a 3pm-11pm job at Harvard Tower, on the old Pennsy side (before I only had experience on NYC side).
I worked a year straight, Tuesday and Wednesday for days off, 3-11 shift. During this time my 1st wife got tired of being home alone, and found somebody else, and told me goodbye. I can remember when she told me, I marked off sick, 1st time, on a Sunday. Now we used to have Sunday Blue Laws back then. Not many stores open. During this year, they repealed the Blue law, this first Sunday I was off, I could not believe the traffic, stores, etc., just like a regular day or Saturday. Anyway, I was still learning the railroad, covering 16 states, its own Legal Department, Real Estate Dept., Medical Dept, Diesel shops, railyards, so many types of trains--just another whole world. Most all the railroaders I worked with were great! I will never forget what one trainman told me, "The railroad is the real world, but it's just tracks between playgrounds!"
The years went by (glad I wasn't working that night at the Drawbridge, when a train hit the counter weight of the bridge and the engine crew was killed. After 10 years, in 1980 I was promoted by the superintendent to be a train dispatcher. A dispatcher was my supervisor, when in the tower. I started out as an extra in the Terminal Tower in Cleveland. I had to learn all the different desks, some whose territories covered 3 states. In the towers I ran an interlocking, averaging 1.5 miles long. Dispatching is basically the same, except that everything regarding transportation industry is involved, and some desks controlled territories up to 300 miles. The rate of pay was a lot higher and the job more demanding. Even after working more years, everyday I learned something, always growing, until 1985, I was promoted to Assistant Chief Train Dispatcher. There's only 1 Chief Dispatcher, who works days with the assistant chief, the chief handles the business and political side and the assistant does the nuts and bolts work of the job. I worked nights 11pm to 7am, and was responsible for the whole Cleveland Division. My 1st week on the job, I thought I was having a heart attack, 35 years old, with a stiffness in my left arm. As it turned out, I was just tense, holding the telephone tightly the 1st week.
It wasn't long after that we got headsets for the phone (the type the TV advertisements had the girl wearing, selling Time-Life books). After 5 years, I was burnt out, realizing this when one of my children woke me up at home, and I told him he had to re-crew his train at white switch. I went back to a desk job, working as a regular train dispatcher, quite comfortable, until about 1991, the whole office was redesigned and computerized. It was like Star Wars, we always did have computers at the desks, but now it was all TV screens and computer screens and keyboards. We used a card to enter the office, it was all high tech. I complained I could not read some of the train symbols on the screens and was sent to the company doctor for check-ups. He OK'd me back to work with accommodation. I returned to work, my accommodation was binoculars.
I did alright for maybe a year, but made some small mistakes, had a hearing for delay to trains, and almost had 2 head-on collisions. My second one I caught early enough, but knew I wasn't seeing what I was supposed to. I went to my eye doctor, he explained my severe myopia, acute astigmatism, and poor visual acuity. I had to wait 120 days, til my sick pay ran out, then I applied to the US Railroad Retirement Board, for pension. Railroad workers are not entitled to workers comp. or social security, we come under a whole different set of Federal Regulations (the US Railroad Retirement Act). So that's where I am today, waiting for a hearing on my claim for occupational disability annuity.
It is hard for me to go into my story with my wife Susan, who is suing me for divorce, but I met her in 1980, fell in real love, for the first time in my life. She was perfect in every way--her mind, physically, style, everything. We dated exclusively for over 2 years, I asked her to marry me in 1983. We had a new, good life. She wanted children, about 1985, I just thought kids would come naturally. Of course, I agreed to test, she also had a test, I knew I wanted her and to have children too. Funny how it worked out, after all the expense and testing on us, her doctor just blew her tubes with a small bit of air. We had our first child in 1986 (I was there for the births of all my children). What an experience when he was being born, he looked just like my cousin Wayne! Anyway, we had just moved into our home in Avon, the new parents bringing Lee home from the hospital. On the way home, Sue said excitedly, "Pull over and stop! I think he's stopped breathing." He was just asleep. That night, in our new home, with a new baby, I can remember we just moved in, I didn't have the beds set up. We slept on the box springs on the floor, it felt like my nerves and veins had electricity going through them. We laid there and slept with my whole body having a tingle or buzz going through it. Now Lee is 9 years old, Ben is 7 years and Kayla 4 years old. I was able to take Sue to the hospital on time, each time. We were very lucky. They are the greatest gifts I have ever received.
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