The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

William Thompson.

We are sad to announce the death of William Thompson, Classics teacher and Vice President of ARLT on 12th February 2007, aged 90.


William Thompson was a major figure in the classical world in this country at a time when classics was under increasing threat and new initiatives and approaches to the subject were needed. He supported the institution of JACT and the publication of CLC and through his work in teacher training was instrumental in the spread of non-linguistic courses, especially at foundation level, which he saw as a necessary means of ensuring a future for the subject. I knew William first as a student and later as a professional colleague and friend. As a teacher he was inspiring (if at times a little ponderous!). I recall vividly his cramped upper room in Leeds - long and narrow, crammed with bookcases and files - where we had our tutorials, the air scented with the smoke from his pipe (which required constant relighting). In later years he occupied a room on the ground floor which he himself declared to be the most attractive in the university.

William had come to lecturing from being himself a schoolmaster, and several generations of classics teachers owe him a great debt. When supervising teaching practice he had a stunning effect on pupils with his vermilion waistcoat and bright yellow tie (William was in fact colour-blind): one glance at him as he entered a classroom and they were mesmerised - marvellous for class control! In later years he would send students to me to look around school and observe lessons, and for several years I gave talks in the university during which William would sit to one side and appear not infrequently to nod off! (A bit off-putting, but he always knew when one had come to an end!) Aside from his work in teacher-training he will perhaps be remembered most for two things. His abiding interest in what he styled the classical continuum led to a series of articles in Omnibus in which I collaborated with him, and to a huge collection of photographic slides as well as examples of everything from stamps and matchboxes to cereal packets and beer mats.

Then there is the Thompson Collection (The National Collection of Classics Textbooks and Teaching Materials) in the Brotherton Library in Leeds, a unique research facility and a monument to his foresight and belief in a future for the subject.

For many years he lived in a splendid house in Otley, Woodlands, complete with acanthus and a miniature labyrinth in the garden (reflecting another of his interests). A former President of Leeds CA, William was in 1987 made a Vice-President of ARLT, a body he always wholeheartedly supported. In his later years he lived mostly in Denmark while retaining a home in Leeds which he visited at least once a year. In 2004, at the age of 90, he came over to Leeds at Easter for the CA Annual Conference and while there married Anni, his companion of almost twenty years. He also hosted a splendid lunch to celebrate his birthday at which he gathered around himself family, friends and colleagues.

A thirst for firsts? William thrived on new experiences and finds and was constantly seeking and collecting them. When he did or found something for the first time “That’s my first . . .” would spring to his lips!

With his passing a chapter closes in the story of classical education in this country. But, thanks to his zeal and that of others like him, the study of the classical world will surely continue.

Wilf O’Neill