Robert Means Thompson was a naval officer and graduate of the United States Naval Academy. He was born in Corsica, Pennsylvania on March 2, 1849, the son of Judge John Jamison Thompson and Agnes Kennedy. He was commissioned a Midshipman on July 30, 1864 while at the Academy in Newport, Rhode Island and graduated tenth out of eighty-one in the Class of 1868 at Annapolis, Maryland.
Robert Thompson was involved in no military engagements in the Civil War even though he saw some sea service as a Midshipman.He spent most of the time from his enlistment and commissioning as a Midshipman in 1864 to his graduation in 1868 at the Naval Academy. Upon his graduation he was assigned to the U.S.S. Contooruck of the North Atlantic Squadron and then was promoted to Ensign on April 19, 1869. Sent to the Mediterranean Squadron he served on board the U.S.S. Wachusett and was promoted to Master on July 12, 1870. He resigned his commission on July 12, 1870.
Immediately upon leaving the navy Robert Thompson embarked on the study of law and graduated from the Harvard Law School in 1874. He then served as a reporter for the Massachusetts Supreme Court and in 1876 and 1877 was elected a member of the Boston Common Council. He was retained as counsel in an investigation of titles of several Canadian mining firms and this resulted his becoming manager of the Orford Copper Company and, later, a director of the International Nickel Company. He also served as a partner in Pell & Company in New York. All of these activities resulted in Robert Means Thompson becoming a very wealthy man. He essentially retired from business activities about 1910 and then devoted himself to his three major interests: The U.S. Navy, The United States Olympic Committee and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion.
Robert Means Thompson was an active alumnus of the U.S. Naval Academy and first president of the New York Naval Academy Alumni Association. He founded the Navy Athletic Association and donated the bronze doors on the chapel at the Naval Academy at Annapolis, and the Thompson Trophy Cup. Thompson Athletic Field at the Academy is named for him. He also served as head of the Navy League and was active in founding the United States Naval Institute. He never missed a June week at the Academy for fifty-five years.
A large, vigorous and athletic individual Robert was interested in the promotion of athletic competition and especially international athletic contests. This interest led him to becoming involved in the Olympic Movement and he became the first president of the American Olympic Association. He served as chairman of the United States Committee at the games in Stockholm in 1912 and Paris in 1924 (The games made famous in the film "Chariots of Fire").
Robert Means Thompson was elected a Companion of the First Class through the Commandery of the State of Massachusetts on November 4, 1874 and assigned Insignia No. 1599. He transferred to the Commandery of the State of New York on December 2, 1885. He served on the Council of the New York Commandery in 1897 and 1898. On May 6, 1914 he transferred to the Commandery of the District of Columbia. He served as Junior Vice Commander of the DC Commandery, November 9, 1925 to February 2, 1926. He served as Senior Vice Commander from February 2 1926 to May 5, 1926 and Commander for the remainder of 1926 and to October 1927. On October 27, 1927 Robert Means Thompson was elected Commander-in-Chief of MOLLUS succeeding Rear Admiral Frederick Purnell Harrington. Commander-in-Chief Thompson was re-elected in 1929 and served until his death on September 5, 1930.
Commander-in-Chief Thompson was a gregarious individual known for his great good humor and boundless enthusiasm for projects involving every aspect of the Loyal Legion. He particularly enjoyed entertaining Companions on board his yacht The Everglades. During his tenure as Commander-in-Chief he visited every one of the twenty-one commanderies then in existence. This trip, as described by Companion Graham H. Powell, began in 1928 in Washington D.C. and covered 14,000 miles extending to Los Angeles, Portland Oregon and Portland Maine. All of this was at his own expense and he was "accompanied by a large party." This trip enabled him to become acquainted with every commandery in the nation. Not satisfied with this he personally paid the expenses of at least one Companion of the First Class to come to the Annual Congress in Philadelphia in 1928 so that every one of the State Commanderies would be represented when the Constitution was revised. It was at this meeting that measures were taken so that the distinction in ribbons and rosettes between original and hereditary companions was abolished. Lt. General Nelson Appleton Miles had advocated this change in 1924 and Commander-in-Chief Thompson felt it his duty to carry this through while there were enough Companions of the First Class present to enable it to be voted as a legitimate change in the Constitution. Thompson maintained, "whether Original or Hereditary we are all Companions of one distinguished and world-known brotherhood, and than no distinction by class should be made." As Companion Powell also noted, "Only those intimately associated with Colonel Thompson (he was made a Colonel on the staff of the Governor of New Jersey during the Spanish-American War) can have any conception of the vast store of knowledge and wealth of experience ever at his instant call."
Robert Means Thompson was also a scholar of naval history during the War of the Rebellion. Together with his classmate from the Academy (and fellow MOLLUS Companion) Rear Admiral Richard Wainright, he edited for the Navy History Society, of which he was president, Confidential Correspondence of Gustavus Vasa Fox, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, 1861-1865 which was published in two volumes in 1920.
On April 30, 1873, Robert Thompson married Sarah Gibbs, daughter of William Channing Gibbs, Governor of Rhode Island. Robert and Sarah had one daughter, Sarah Gibbs Thompson. Robert Means Thompson died on September 5, 1930, while visiting his daughter at Fort Ticonderoga, New York. He was interested in the restoration of the fort and had contributed liberally to its restoration. As Alexander Leo said of him, "he amassed a great fortune which, however, he seemed to administer merely as a trustee for others. Money to him was merely a means whereby he could help and give enjoyment to others. He apparently cared nothing for it except as a means to this end." Companion C. Peter Clark of the Massachusetts Commandery wrote, "no companions of our Order, however obscure, or however exalted, exceeded Robert Means Thompson in his love for our Order, or in his devotion to the principles and ideals for which our Order stands." His memorial service, attended by hundreds of Companions of the Loyal Legion was at the Chapel of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland.
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