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More than 1,100 mourners remember ‘Fuzzy’ Thompson as a civil rights pillar

As the funeral for the Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson began on Saturday at St. James United Methodist Church, the many mourners stood as family members entered the sanctuary.
As the funeral for the Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson began on Saturday at St. James United Methodist Church, the many mourners stood as family members entered the sanctuary. The Kansas City Star

The Rev. Nelson “Fuzzy” Thompson was remembered Saturday as a powerful force in the Kansas City area who gracefully engaged people of all races, genders, faiths and classes in the cause of justice and equality.

More than 1,100 mourners filled the sanctuary at St. James United Methodist Church to bid farewell to Thompson, who died a week ago after an extended illness. He was 70.

“It is no coincidence that we celebrate Reverend Thompson’s life during the Martin Luther King Jr. weekend,” said the Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor of St. James, who officiated the services. “It is not a coincidence because they were both drum majors for justice.”

For decades, Thompson led the local chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and was a leading force behind the city’s annual celebration honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

The local commemoration honoring King concludes Monday.

Saturday’s 21/2-hour service featured a parade of speakers who recalled Thompson’s sense of humor, love of basketball, compassion for children and often mischievous behavior, but also his unyielding leadership and service.

In delivering the eulogy, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver said Thompson was a loyal friend and championed a number of causes, many of which were not always popular.

That is why it is critical for others to continue Thompson’s work, “for the kind of man he was and the kind of leader he was,” said Cleaver, a Kansas City Democrat. “We still have the opportunity to finish his work, and there is plenty of work that still remains.”

In a letter of condolence read during the service, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, said, “Fuzzy was a pillar in the community, working as a leader for civil rights and an advocate for children. … His goal was to eliminate prejudice in our community and to remove all barriers of racial discrimination.

“Fuzzy’s commitment to serving the needs of our community will greatly be missed but never forgotten, especially by the Kansas City residents whose lives he affected with his presence.”

Thompson was born in Kansas City, Kan. When he was 16, his family moved to Kansas City. He graduated from Central High School, later graduating from Lincoln University in Jefferson City. Thompson received a master’s degree and then a doctorate in divinity from St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City.

For three decades, Thompson was the executive director of the Martin Luther King Urban Center in Kansas City, Kan. From 1991 until his retirement in 2005, Thompson was the pastor of Mason Memorial United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Kan.

Thompson frequently traveled overseas, including trips to Iran, Nicaragua and South Africa in support of civil and human rights causes.

“Fuzzy was one of those individuals who was truly a leader in civil rights and human rights, and we need more Fuzzy Thompsons in this world,” said former Missouri governor Bob Holden following the service.

To reach Glenn E. Rice, call 816-234-4341 or send email to grice@kcstar.com.

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