Richard Louis Thompson: 1938-2022 | Obituaries

Richard was born Louis Richard Theos in Salt Lake City, Utah, to Martha Smart (Vernal, Utah) and Louis P. Theos -Theophilaktopoulos-Theophilou (Kalavryta, Greece). From the time he was a baby, he was raised by his mother and his maternal grandparents Paula Margarette Schreiber and William Haines Smart. He was later adopted by his stepfather Benjamin Thompson-Tomelovich-Tomalonis and his name changed to Richard Louis Thompson.

Richard graduated in 1957 from South High in Salt Lake City, Utah. He served a mission in Germany and became fluent in the language and love of German culture. He then graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering. He worked briefly for Hercules Chemical Co. as a chemical engineer on Minuteman missiles and missile propulsion. He related that he found this boring. During this time he met the love of his life Betty James and sold his motorcycle to pay for her wedding ring. They married in August of 1964 after knowing each other for only three months. They then moved to Seattle where she taught elementary school while he completed his doctorate in Particle Physics in four years (typically seven) at the University of Washington. He also did research at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Long Island, New York, and then at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Together Richard and Betty enjoyed many fun times hiking, fishing, hunting and rockhounding. In 1968 they moved to Arcata, California, when Richard was hired by Humboldt State University where he enjoyed his passion for teaching physics and inspiring students to learn until his retirement in 2001. His focus at HSU was always on providing excellent education, not on making a name for himself as a researcher. He felt very strongly about it. He was dearly loved and respected by his colleagues, faculty and students. His career at HSU provided opportunity for three year-long sabbaticals. One in Hamburg, Germany, at DESY (a nuclear particle accelerator) and later at Oxford University in England, where he continued studies in particle physics. During one experiment he was involved with discovering and measuring, for the first time, the mass of one of the quarks.

Richard and Betty raised two children at their home in the Freshwater area. They also kept a variety of pets and animals including a hound dog, cats, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and a horse. Music also played a role in Richard’s life. In his youth he played the tuba and also played the piano and sang in the church choir. His love of music, especially classical, was further rewarded by their son Paul’s talent and career in opera.

Dick and Betty loved to travel and spent time exploring Europe, Asia, Africa, India and Australia as well as North, Central and South America. He was a super planner and mapped and planned these trips in great detail. Richard taught himself Greek and traveled with his family to Kalavryta to research his Greek heritage, which was always a major part of his identity. A favorite place Richard and Betty loved to hike was in the slot canyons of Escalante, Utah. He was also very artistic and did a beautiful job carving and polishing rocks and laying decorative brick. After his retirement he took geology classes at HSU as a hobby.

Richard’s love of physics applied to many aspects of his life. In 1998, he even calculated the rate of fall on his rapid descent from the roof! This accident resulted in serious trauma with lifelong consequences. He was very physically active, determined and worked hard to recover. Their daughter’s education in nursing proved useful during his various hospital stays. Richard was known to be a strong athlete. He skied, played football and loved to play basketball in school as well as with his friends in the Arcata Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the HSU Intramural team. He was star center for the University of Utah basketball team when they went to the Championships. Richard was an avid runner and member of the Six Rivers Running Club.

Richard loved his wife’s gourmet cooking. He especially loved meat and desserts. Dark chocolate was always a favorite and he kept a “stash” of it by his chair. His family always knew it was a special occasion when Richard had buttoned every button on his flannel shirt. He felt that by doing every other button he was saving time and energy, another physics principle, the conservation of motion.

Richard took great satisfaction in gardening and landscaping. He had a vast knowledge of trees, shrubs and plants including their Latin names. His knowledge of levers moved mountains from the quarry to his “rock garden” where he and Betty spent many days together perfecting their piece of paradise.

Richard was preceded in death by his elders, including Theos half siblings Mary (Kingdon), Alexander, Nickolas, George, Theodora “Teddy” and Virginia (Cook).

He is survived by his wife of 57 years Betty Jane (James) Thompson, their son Paul Richard Thompson (Emeryville, California) and daughter Heidi Jane Van Buskirk and her husband Charles (Eureka, California) as well as his grandchildren Elle Jane McCall ( Thomas V. Evans), Chelsea L. Van Buskirk, James C. Van Buskirk (Cynthia), Sophiana M. Van Buskirk and Rebekah J. Van Buskirk as well as great grandchild Remi Maria Van Buskirk (James).

The family would like to extend their gratitude and thanks to Mad River Home Health, Hospice Of Humboldt, Agape Home Care and Ayres Family Cremation for excellent care and service.

His wish is for any donations to be made to The Nature Conservancy.


A celebration of life will be held on Saturday February 26th, at 1 pm in the Thompson’s garden. (Alternate site pending weather)


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