Galveston: Philanthropist Thompson to be honored at The Grand

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by Bronwyn Turner / The Daily News

khou.com

Posted on October 3, 2010 at 1:29 PM

GALVESTON, Texas — Henrietta Leonora "Nonie" Kempner Thompson, whose servings of wit, compassion and a self-branded "pinkie" cocktail endeared her to the Galveston community, will be remembered in a special service Monday in The 1894 Grand Opera House she loved.

Rabbi Jimmy Kessler will officiate at the 4 p.m. service, to be followed by a gathering of friends and family at The Grand.

Thompson, 97, died at home Sept. 14. The youngest of five children of Isaac Herbert and Henrietta Leonora Blum Kempner, she was named after her mother and nicknamed "Nonie" by siblings.

She was born into a family known for its business acumen, philanthropy and community service. Her father was the founder of the Imperial Sugar Corp. and a mayor of Galveston. He and his siblings founded the Harris and Eliza Kempner Fund, a nonprofit family foundation named for their parents and based in Galveston.

Nonie Thompson continued the family tradition and with style.

"She was a feature of energy, of pleasantness, of vitality," nephew Shrub Kempner said.

"If there was a copyright for Auntie Mame, Nonie had it," he said, referring to a fictional flamboyant aunt who was the focus of a novel and Broadway show.

Thompson volunteered with a variety of local health and welfare organizations and helped in the startup of several community programs. She helped lead the drive to restore The Grand 1894 Opera House.

"Nonie Thompson was not only a leader in the Galveston community, she was a role model for all members of the Kempner family," niece and former Galveston Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas said. "There is no value that can be put on her contributions to Galveston and her personal contributions to many of our citizens; she will be missed by her family and by the city of Galveston."

Thompson also was known for a youthful outlook that never seemed to age.

"She loved life," friend Gloria Herman said. "She was the queen of cocktail making. Her home was always full of joy, fun and activity and good conversation."

Victor Lang was among the friends who would gather for parties hosted by Thompson and her late husband, Dr. Eddie Randall Thompson.

"They had a big backroom built on their house, and it was constantly filled," Lang said. "There was a piano in the hallway and somebody was playing one night and Ed needed to get upstairs and get to sleep because he had surgery the next day. About eight of us got together and we lifted up the piano, the bench and the guy playing it and took it out into the front yard, so Eddie could go to sleep.

"It was all harmless. There was so much laughter. That was the important thing. There was never a down time."

Thompson loved to drive her convertible, with top down, well into her senior years, Lang recalled. When Thompson was no longer able to drive, Lang and other friends called on her daily for "happy hour" and conversation. They would drink "pinkies," a cocktail concocted by Thompson with two kinds of rum and lime juice, and talk about memories.

"She was absolutely wonderful to be with because she sparkled," Lang said.

Kempner remembers Thompson as the young-at-heart aunt for generations of cousins.

"She had this joy in life no matter what happened to her," he said. "She was totally indomitable in spirit through everything. She always seemed considerably younger than she was."

This story was brought to you through khou.com’s partnership with the Galveston County Daily News.

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