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Retired Va. Supreme Court Justice W. Carrington Thompson dies

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Retired Supreme Court of Virginia Justice William Carrington Thompson, 95, who once compared his job on the court to service "in the College of Cardinals or a monastery," died Saturday at his home in Chatham.

"Primarily, you're withdrawn from the public and a large majority of the practicing bar," he said in a 1983 Richmond Times-Dispatch interview.

The lawyer and judge was the first justice selected by the General Assembly in 50 years when he was named to the state's highest court in 1980 at age 64. With mandatory retirement for justices at 70, he could have served six years; however, he stepped down in 1983, citing personal reasons.

Born and reared in Chatham, he was the son of a druggist and a mother who came from an old Chatham family.

He attended Hampden-Sydney College and then earned a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1938.

He served as an assistant attorney general from 1941 until 1943, when he went into the Navy, where he served patrolling the Eastern Shore and spent time in the Pacific theater.

Returning from service, he served again as an assistant attorney general in 1946 and 1947, when he served on Gov. William Tuck's Commission on the Reorganization of State Government.

From 1948 to 1955, he served as Pittsylvania commonwealth's attorney before going into private law practice.

He represented Danville and Pittsylvania County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1960 to 1966 and then was elected in 1967 to the state Senate, where he served until 1972.

Mr. Thompson, who served on the Pittsylvania Democratic Committee for a number of years and was generally considered in alignment with Byrd machine politics, served as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.

He was an unsuccessful challenger for the lieutenant gubernatorial slot won by J. Sergeant Reynolds in the 1969 Democratic primary.

Mr. Thompson served as a judge on the 22nd Judicial Circuit, trying cases in Danville as well as Franklin and Pittsylvania counties from 1973 until being named to the Supreme Court to fill a vacancy left by retiring Justice Alex M. Harman Jr.

Colleagues noted his near photographic memory and no-nonsense courtroom demeanor.

In 1982, Mr. Thompson was among the first group of justices to receive the Master of Law degree in the judicial process from U.Va., at the time the only university degree program for judges.

He was a lifelong member of Chatham Baptist Church, where he taught the Bernard Arnn Memorial Sunday school class for 40 years.

He was the widower of Margaret Colbert Thompson, to whom he was married 65 years.

Survivors include sons, as well as four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

A private graveside service will be held.


erobertson@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6115

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