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Joseph Earl Thompson, Sr.
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Obituary for Joseph Earl Thompson, Sr.

Obituary for Joseph E. Thompson, Sr.

The Rev. Dr. Joseph Earl “Joe” Thompson, Sr., 91, died peacefully on Wednesday, July 26, 2017, at his home in Lilburn, Georgia surrounded by his loving family. A retired professor, administrator, and minister, Joe was born in Columbia, SC on May 16, 1926, the second son of Rev. Hale Benjamin Thompson, Sr. and Mrs. Margaret Kennedy Thompson. A lifelong thirst for knowledge was nurtured in the shadow of Allen University where his father served as Dean and many of his beloved aunts and uncles were educated. After graduating from Booker T. Washington High School, he attended Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU) in Charlotte, NC, where he pledged Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity and developed a keen interest in literature, philosophy, and religion. Upon graduation with honors, he moved with his family to New York City where he earned a Masters Degree of Theology from Union Theological Seminary, a Masters Degree in English and a Doctorate Degree in Religious Education from New York University. Ordained by his father, Joe assisted in founding St. Paul Community Church, New York, serving as Associate Pastor.

During the years of the Civil Rights struggle, Joe returned south where he taught and counseled students and activists as a young professor and Chaplain at several Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including Florida A&M University, South Carolina State University, and his alma mater JCSU. During this time, he courted and won the affections of Shirley Mae Williams, also a JCSU graduate. Married on November 27, 1969, the couple moved to the Atlanta area where they raised their three children, Shirley Elizabeth, Joseph Earl, Jr., and Amber Gale. Joe directed programs for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools until returning to college administration as Academic Dean and then Interim President of Talladega College. Talladega College honored him with the LL.D. after his tenure. He retired from his career in education as the Executive Director of the Atlanta University Center in 1998. Over the years, he served with countless organizations, including the National Association of College Chaplains, the College Language Association, the Georgia Humanities Council, and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. A member of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta, Joe preached at many churches across the country. He was a Parish Associate at Hillside Presbyterian Church of Decatur, GA, where he and his family have been longtime members and where he also served for a time as Interim Pastor.

Joe will be fondly remembered as a gracious and patient listener with a booming voice, a man of deep seriousness and ready laughter, a curious and avid world traveler whose very presence signaled home. A talented pianist, he enjoyed music of all kinds, especially spirituals performed in the concert tradition. A voracious and careful reader and a witty and generous conversationalist, he loved wide-ranging religious, political, and philosophical discussions. Joe was a creative practitioner of the Christian faith and fostered a deep and abiding concern for social justice. In his later years, his greatest joys were watching his grandchildren grow in their various talents and regaling them with stories of his youth.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his older brother, Hale Benjamin Thompson, Jr. He is survived by Shirley, his wife of almost 48 years; his daughter, Drs. Shirley Thompson Marshall, and son-in-law, Stephen Marshall, of Austin, TX; his son, Drs. Joseph Earl Thompson, Jr., and daughter-in-law, Tina-Ann Thompson, of Stone Mountain, GA; his daughter, Amber Thompson Ramsey, and son-in-law, J. Shakir Ramsey, of Overland Park, KS; five grandchildren, Nyla Gabrielle Thompson, Solomon Hale Marshall, Joseph Earl Thompson, III, Noah Storm Spellman Ramsey, and Zen Gale Ramsey; and a host of beloved nieces, nephews, cousins, siblings-in-law, and extended family and friends.

A Memorial Service for Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Thompson, Sr. will be held on November 25, 2017 at Hillside Presbyterian Church, 1879 Columbia Drive, Decatur, Georgia 30032 at 11:00 AM.

Following the Memorial Service Rev. Dr. Joseph E. Thompson will be interred at Historical Decatur Cemetery, Bell Street and Church Street Decatur, Georgia.

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Previous Events

Memorial Service




11:00 AM
Hillside Presbyterian Church

1879 Columbia Drive
Decatur, Georgia 30032

Cemetery Details


Decatur Cemetery

229 Bell Street
Decatur, Georgia 30030


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