To the editor:
The morning of December 14, 2022, I sat by the bedside of a dear friend and watched as an era of West Plains history came to an end. Laurel Thompson passed away in the institution which he was among the founding fathers — Ozarks Medical Center/Ozarks Healthcare.
It was Laurel, and a handful of civic leaders, that conjured the idea in the 1950s that West Plains needed a full-fledged hospital. Over cups of coffee at a local cafe they hatched the plan and Laurel put together the concept to involve the local community in raising funds that would eventually build a brick and mortar building called OMC. It was to be a hospital for the people, built and supported by the people of the Ozarks.
He, along with the others, walked the streets speaking to anyone willing to listen about the need for a hospital and I suspect some not so willing to listen. He spoke before civic organizations, small gathered groups, on the radio and at school functions, always generating interest and providing a way to contribute to the need.
As I sat there that morning watching his final minutes, I could not help but think how fitting it was, if he had to say goodbye, that he did so in the hospital he helped create. A hospital which over the decades since those first bricks were laid has benefitted so many not only from West Plains but from a vast area of southern Missouri and north Arkansas.
Of course, the hospital is not the only thing that Laurel Thompson will be remembered for as he was always at the forefront for civic improvement both locally and regionally. Industrial development, major highway improvement, educational enhancements are but a few of the things for which he will be remembered. His obituary, written by his daughter [published in the Dec. 17 issue of the Quill], so elegantly notes many of his accomplishments. And hundreds of comments on social media confirm the respect the citizens of this area had for him and certainly indicate the impact his smiling personality had on all those he came in contact with either personally or over the air waves.
As for me, I will remember him as the best storyteller I ever knew. The best play-by-play announcer I ever heard, and as one of the best friends I ever had.
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