John B. Thompson, Founding Member of the Firm, Retires

On October 30, 2015, John B. Thompson officially retired from ThompsonMcMullan. John was one of the two founding members of the firm more than 40 years ago, and was instrumental in setting the tone for the firm’s commitment to deep understanding of our clients’ needs, high quality legal work, and a very dedicated approach to our community and our staff.

We felt the best way to shine a light on all John has done for the firm was to share personal stories from our lawyers and staff. We wish Mr. Thompson the very best in his retirement.

It was my very good luck to have practiced with such a fine person as John Thompson over a period of time that began in the very early nineteen seventies until now at the end of October, 2015.  Well before we ever started working together as lawyers, John and I were very good friends, first as undergraduates at the University of Virginia and then after both of us coming back from military service, at the University of Virginia law school. John loved studying law and did extremely well, although I do recall that, as he was cresting to the very top of the standings in our class, he did oversleep and missed almost entirely one critical exam. That incident did lower his academic standing somewhat.

After law school and after both of us experiencing working for Reynolds Metals (in John’s case) or for very large law firms (first in New York and then in Richmond in my case), John and I got together and start talking about what we really wanted to do, which was to have more control over our lives if we were going to continue to work as hard as we had to in order to succeed as lawyers. So after practicing for a period of time with Michael Morchower and Matthew Ott in an office sharing arrangement, we decided to create what we had often discussed, which was to establish our very own law firm, which became happily located at 13 East Franklin Street. And from there the real adventure began.

Amazingly, the law firm was from the start a big success and we were very happy with its growth.  We literally handled just about everything that came in the door that was not a conflict, and to do that we constantly had to learn areas of the law, but with John around, almost any kind of law could be figured out. Furthermore, the hard work seemed to be quite rewarding; especially due to the fact that we were such good friends.

There were many adventures along the way, and some fun ones, such as quail hunting or hiking in Virginia’s mountains.  And in the winter, no firewood was ever needed for our homes since we hauled what we needed from John’s farm in Prince George.  John never charged me for the wood either.  So, except for national politics, on which John and I never agreed, we virtually never got into an argument about anything and even the political discussions were learning experiences, especially for me.  Slowly over time the law firm grew to what is today – a fine place to practice law with a wonderful staff and very smart lawyers.

As you can imagine, I am going to miss John.

– Grice McMullan, Founding Member

I first met John Thompson on October 31, 1980. At the time, I was serving a s a law clerk to Justice Richard H. Poff of the Supreme Court of Virginia. In preparation for the end of that position in June, 1981, I was searching for a law firm where I could make my professional home. My visit with John and Grice McMullan came late in the process, after I had been offered a couple of other positions. After meeting John and Grice, I had no doubt where I wanted to settle into practice. That same day, I told my wife, Nancy, that I had met the people I wanted to practice with for the long term. I withdrew from consideration of other positions and waited patiently to hear from John. Not long after that first interview, I received an offer letter from John and my “yes” was almost immediate. As I reflect back now , I know that my instincts were correct. It has been my great privilege to practice with John Thompson for now 35 years. To say that John is a brilliant lawyer is an understatement and goes without saying- within the firm and among the many judges and colleagues at the Bar who have worked with John and witnessed his ability as a lawyer over the years. As a young lawyer, being able to offer that I practiced with John provided almost instant credibility to judges, lawyers, clients and friends. Working at John’s side in litigation and other matters was always a source of joy and responsibility. The joy came from knowing that I was learning from the best. The responsibility came from knowing that John always gave his best to every client and expected that I would measure up to that standard as well. I never wanted to let John or our clients down – and I hope I never did.

John and Grice set out together to create a firm that would be a place where simple and clear values of hard and honest work, excellence in legal representation, collegiality, respect for one another and right ordering of priorities would be the hallmark of our shared work lives, for our  attorneys and  staff as well. John took the laboring oar of managing the firm for many years and steadfastly held us true to the core values that define us today as an excellent law firm dedicated to doing things the right way as lawyers, doing the right thing for our families, doing the right thing for our community of co-workers, and doing the right thing for the community in which we work. John accomplished all of this by first setting standards of excellence for himself and then passing those standards on to the rest of the firm. Sometimes at great personal sacrifice, John and Grice together navigated the firm to the place we find ourselves today. As John makes his way in retirement, I hope we will always continue to follow the path he cut, to honor the values he lived so well in our midst and that we will never let John down.

– Chris Malone, Managing Director

I joined the firm of Ott, Morchower, Thompson & McMullan in July of 1976.  My office at 13 East Franklin Street was right next to John’s.  Generally, both of our doors were open, so I was able to hear John on the telephone a lot.  I probably learned more about how to handle myself with clients from just sitting at my desk listening to John than by any other means.

Also, as a young lawyer, I had a healthy fear of generally not knowing about what I was doing.  Early on, John diffused my anxiety by telling me to file what I thought made sense and then go to Court and “just flail around.”  It was good advice.

– Hugh T. Antrim, Director and Prior Managing Director

When I first started at ThompsonMcMullan after graduating from law school in 1999, it was my first “real” job.  He was “Mr. Thompson” then, and I was kind of scared of him.  He referred to people like myself as “baby lawyers.”  I thought he was tough.

When he gave me an assignment, and I would ask a question, Mr. Thompson would say, “You tell me, you’re my lawyer.”  As a teacher, his method was not to spoon feed.  He was teaching me to dig, to be more self-reliant.  When he spoke of legal concepts, it didn’t sound like something memorized but was as if he was giving the statements gravitas just be speaking them out loud.  He wasn’t fancy.  Other lawyers from larger firms would use audio-visual equipment.  John would use a legal pad.  But he would win or advance his client’s cause.  John instilled ideas of fairness, practicality and thoroughness into my practice of law.

My office has been right next to John’s for most of my career here.  While I certainly still see him as a mentor and respect him greatly, he has also become a friend.  And by the way, I’m not scared of him anymore.

– Neil Talegaonkar, Director

In 2006-2007, I had the absolute privilege of working with Mr. Thompson on a large construction dispute. At the outset of the case, I was overwhelmed. The case was moving at a rapid pace in federal court and it was fact intensive and legally complicated.

During that case, Mr. Thompson taught me how to be a lawyer. He showed me the type of work and organization it took to master the facts and the law of a case. More importantly, he showed me how to be a counselor and friend to our clients. On April 16, 2007, Mr. Thompson and I attended a settlement conference with our client. After the mediation commenced, we were assigned a conference room and our client received a phone call from his daughter, who was a student at Virginia Tech. On that date, tragedy struck the Virginia Tech campus as a gunman went on a shooting rampage. After our client hung up the phone, Mr. Thompson immediately reassured the client that everything was going to be alright and told the client to leave immediately and to get to Blacksburg. When the client expressed some concern about leaving the courthouse without notifying the magistrate judge, Mr. Thompson assured him that he would take care of it.

Thankfully, our client’s daughter was unharmed and several months later, we settled the case on favorable terms. While I hope the client was satisfied with outcome of the litigation, I know for certain that he was much more appreciative of the advice and reassurance Mr. Thompson provided while that tragic event unfolded.

– Mark R. Colombell, Director

I have had the pleasure and good fortune to have my office next to John’s for the 20 years I have practiced law.  Watching John confirmed for me that law can indeed be practiced with honor and integrity.  One of my earliest recollections is hearing John on the phone with a client who had lost his case and now was upset about paying the invoice.  John, in a very calm voice, explained to the client that John had told him from the start that winning the case would be unlikely, that John had reviewed all of the time entries, and that all of the time entered was fair and appropriate.  What John told him next floored me. He said: “You review the bill, send to me what you think our time was worth, and I will accept it, no questions asked.”  It was a matter of honor and integrity – John knew that the firm had served the client well, and John trusted the client to see that, too.  I have done my best to follow his example and have been proud to practice with him.

– Adam R. Nelson, Director

John Thompson has been the beacon of light that has guided Thompson McMullan through the years. John’s leadership has been the inspiration both to staff and attorneys to maintain the standards he had set forth over forty years ago; to provide our clients with effective and efficient results.  We attain these results through honorable and ethical behavior as demonstrated and instilled by John Thompson.

– Mary Ellen Cleveland, Firm Administrator

After 20 years of working with the firm, I have many memories of Mr. Thompson, all of them good. He has always lent an ear and given advice for me when I was in a situation at work, and in many cases, worked behind the scenes to make my job easier. John has never been too busy for the people of this firm and has always realized that the employees are the firm’s most important asset, and lived by that.  John is a very special person, and will be missed dearly by all who know him.

– Carole Runnett, Legal Assistant