Gary C. Thompson
1936 ~ 2023
Captain Gary C. Thompson, age 86, passed away in Eden Prairie, Minnesota on July 17, 2023. Gary was born on December 7, 1936 at the hospital in Breckenridge, MN to Clarence ‘Butch’ and Esther Thompson. The family resided across the Minnesota/South Dakota state line in remote Rosholt, SD where his father worked as a butcher and his mother a schoolteacher. Gary was the oldest of three siblings.
Family lore reports that Gary didn’t set the world on fire as a student but was a noteworthy athlete. He played football, basketball, and baseball. He was also reputed to be a good singer and appeared in school plays.
Gary entered Concordia College in the fall of 1954 on a football scholarship where he played football until suffering a severe concussion. A year later he dropped out of college and pursued entry into the military.
Gary served in the U.S. Navy for four years which included cruises on the USS Tarawa. While home on leave from the Navy, Gary had a chance encounter with a lovely lass named Joan whom he met standing in line at Dairy Queen in Wahpeton, ND. The meeting involved Joan’s chance mention of the name of a mutual friend. As only a fast-moving sailor can move, after only five days the couple were engaged to marry.
Post wedding the couple moved east to Rhode Island where Gary’s ship was posted. Joan got a job in the local economy and almost immediately Gary departed on a three-month cruise. This all sounds like good preparation for a lifetime airline career. Had Gary lived to November 20, 2023, the couple would have been married sixty-six years.
Through the US Navy, Gary learned about career possibilities as a FAA Air Traffic Controller. Scoring well on the screening examinations, Gary trained at the FAA Academy in Oklahoma City. His first assignment was the Flying Cloud Tower west of the Twin Cities. In time Gary also worked at the MSP Airport Control Tower and Radar Facility.
While working at Flying Cloud Airport Gary became aware of possibilities for general aviation pilots acquiring employment with major airlines like Northwest Airlines. After acquiring the necessary FAA pilot ratings and flight time, Gary applied to Northwest Airlines (NWA) and was indeed hired on February 28, 1966.
Gary’s career progression at NWA was pretty much a standard issue. He began his pilot career as Second Officer on the Boeing 727. The 727 remained bedrock solid in Gary’s career. As seniority permitted, he upgraded to Boeing 720/320 as Second and thereafter First Officer on the 727 and the 720/320. His very important initial Captain upgrade was on the Boeing 727. Gary enjoyed flying domestically on the 727 quickly building extensive the experience that airplane proffered.
In the summer of 1970, the cycle of labor strikes and layoffs was epitomized by the six-month BRAC Strike. During his extended layoff Gary sold cars, pumped gas and wonder of wonders, Gary played the seasonal role of Santa Claus at the South Town Shopping Center in Bloomington, MN. On one occasion Gary, aka Santa, was delivered into the shopping center parking lot in a helicopter.
After airline operations stabilized, Gary was offered an opportunity to work for NWA’s Flight Training Department as a Boeing 727 instructor pilot. He remained based at MSP and as seniority permitted, upgraded to the DC-10, the 747 Classic, and eventually the 747/400 – based in Detroit. At age sixty, Gary retired from NWA as a 747/400 Captain and instructor/check airman on that airplane. His last flight in late 1966 was from Seoul to Detroit.
In retirement Gary and Joan spent winters in Chandler, AZ and summers in Eden Prairie, MN. While was a skilled athlete, within the family he was known for lacking handyman skills. A man who needed strong skilled sons. When the grandkids started dabbling in sports Gary packed his vehicle and accompanied them on the game trips. Sometimes it was up to Canada for hockey and other times in the Twin Cities for baseball, softball, and football. The diversity of the family sports activities also included hockey, skeet shooting and lacrosse. When in Arizona Gary worked on his golfing skills.
Captain Gary Thompson is survived by his loving wife Joan; sons, Greg (Bobbi), Steve (Kari); daughter Kris (Vark) Tadian; and eight grandchildren.
It was no secret that Gary was a much-respected instructor pilot at Northwest Airlines. He acquired remarkable skills at reading people and putting the student at ease, even during stressful type rating simulator checks. The result was that he drew the best out of everyone while insuring their skill acquisition.
Our friend and colleague was indeed a remarkable aviator, father, and spouse. We will greatly miss him.
(~ Bill Day)