When he was offered the job in the summer of 1984, TLS did not have a head of school, a business manager, or an endowment. Betty Jo Palmer was not only acting Head of School but also Chair of the Board. When I spoke to her about what she remembers from that time in the school’s history she said simply, “Chuck, TLS had nothing. I mean nothing to its name. … In addition, Ms. A had given us some tough love and told the Board they needed to fix this problem themselves. Literally, TLS had nothing!”
Bob Thompson remembers receiving his contract in the very office he resides in now. He heard about the opening from Ann Eames, longtime English Teacher at TLS. As Ann Eames remembers, “Years ago, Bob and I sat side by side at a church board meeting. After checking in with one another on the news of our families, I asked Bob how work was. He responded that it was fine, but he was looking for something more, perhaps a little more challenging. …I passed on the contact information to him, Bob followed up, and a part of TLS history was written.”
Finding a new job that was a challenge was an understatement. TLS was not in the financial position it is today. Bob remembers his first summer: “That period of the year after the last tuition payments were due and the deposits for the following year were months away, the school could not meet its payroll obligations. I remember trying to secure lines of credit to get us through the summer.” The school hired an interim just before opening day. The trustees of the school at that time included a lot of familiar names: Young, Kenan, May, Clay, Neuman, Jackson, Robinson, Gaines. When you talk with trustees from that era, to a person they are grateful for the continuity Bob Thompson provided for the school in the early years and beyond.
Anyone who has served on the Finance Committee of the Board or served as treasurer is aware of the magic Bob works with the school’s budget. I can attest to this as well. In my entire 15-year tenure, The Lexington School has always finished the year with a surplus. Some of you may read that and think, “Of course, we all know TLS is in great economic shape.” May I remind you, though, that the school managed to finish each year in the black throughout the entire time the country was in the midst of the Great Recession? It is not hyperbole to say that the reason TLS is in such great economic shape today is because of the parsimonious hand of Bob Thompson.
Marijo Foster remembers fondly:
I should be able to remember the day that Bob Thompson joined us at TLS, but the truth is it feels as if he has always been there. In the early days, he was in charge of approving all expenditures and all work with the budget. If a teacher or department needed something extra, they would go to Bob (some even called him Uncle Bob), and he would work his magic and make it happen...almost always. His ability to guide the physical plant upkeep and changes, including important additions, has always been impressive. He has kept his finger on the pulse of TLS since he arrived, and it is difficult to imagine the school without him.
The role of business manager has changed dramatically during Bob’s tenure for sure. When Bob arrived, he had one maintenance person and a one person in billing. It is not an exaggeration to say that he plowed roads, plunged toilets, changed lightbulbs, waxed floors, relit hot water pilot lights, and built buildings. Built building he did. TLS ended at the middle school crossway when Bob first started at TLS. Basketball hoops were located in the cafeteria, and there was a stage next to the current kitchen. He has overseen construction of the middle school wing, arts wing, library, lower school building, athletic fields, Scarlett Gate, and of course the current academic center. The school has been transformed and expanded under his watchful eye. Enrollment is the largest the school has ever been reaching 600 students in his last year. While the school will take out a construction loan for the Academic Center, the school is currently debt free. Furthermore, under Bob’s tenure, our endowment has grown from nonexistent to $38 million.
While Bob should be remembered for his role in transforming the physical and financial condition of The Lexington School, I will remember him most for his steady hand, excellent advice, fiduciary acumen, his friendship, and kindness. He has a huge heart and wants nothing more than the people who work for this school to have a career they love, excellent benefits, fair wages, and a comfortable retirement. He cares so deeply for the faculty and staff who work for this school. While he is cautious about taking risks and expanding the mission of the school, it is because of Bob that TLS sailed through the recession and The Learning Center met its ten-year financial objectives in five short years. Bob knew better than anyone that what kills dreams is not always a lack of trying or a great idea, but incomplete resources. TLS wouldn’t be the school it is today without resources. TLS is the school it is today because of Bob Thompson.
Bob also loves his family. His wife Sharon, his lifetime partner, was the food writer for the Herald-Leader for years, and to this day, Bob always takes a call from his two daughters. Family comes first. That same love and loyalty have made him a great leader these past 35 years at TLS. Because of his 35 years of caring, foresight, dedication, and sound fiscal management, The Lexington School is eternally grateful for Mr. Robert Thompson’s service.
With gratitude for a job I love,
Charles D. Baldecchi
Head of School