Billy Thompson of White Post Restorations Passes

Photo for Billy Thompson of White Post Restorations Passes

Written by Val Van Meter of The Winchester Star dated March 17, 2011. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WHITE POST- Residents of the village of White Post are grieving the loss of the man who literally put them on the map. W. R. "Billy" Thompson Jr., 72, owner of White Post Restorations and a community benefactor, was found dead in his home in White Post Wednesday morning by family members, according to Clarke County Sheriff Anthony Roper. 

"He was one of my closest friends," said Supervisor A.R. "Pete" Dunning Jr., who represents the southern part of Clarke County, including White Post. He and Thompson grew up together, and got into plenty of scrapes at Boyce Elementary School, Dunning said. "When I decided to run for supervisor [in the late-1970s], he was there. "Thompson put White Post "on the map" in 1981.

His father started a farm machinery repair business in the village in 1940. His son turned it into what Thompson proudly proclaimed the leading antique and classic car restoration firm in the United States. Movie stars and Arab potentates sent vehicles to be restored to pristine condition at White Post Restorations.

In an effort to deal with the problems he was having directing clients to his business at One Old Car Drive, he successfully petitioned the Virginia Department of Transportation for a sign for the village. He made a case with the Virginia Landmarks Commission to register the trademark post at the crossroads of the village as historically significant - there has been a post in the center of the intersection of White Post Road and Berry's Ferry Road in the village since Thomas Lord Fairfax settled there in the 18th century. Thompson took pride in keeping the post painted a dazzling white, and re-erecting it each time a motorist knocked it down. The commonwealth ended up putting not just the post, but the entire village on its register of historic places, making it the first designated historic district in Clarke County. Shortly afterward, the National Park Service named the village a national historic landmark.

His efforts for his village brought him the title of Clarke County's Citizen of the Year for 1983. County supervisors further tapped into Thompson's energy and enthusiasm by naming him to organize the county's 150th birthday celebration in 1986. "That whole sesquicentennial thing was his instigation," said Roberta Kerns, former executive director of the Berryville-Clarke County Chamber of Commerce. He recruited hundreds of residents to produce a celebration that ran for 12 months, beginning with a county-wide party in January of that year. There were parades, battle re-enactments, an official reception for the county charter, a historic play and many other large and small get-togethers. "Wasn't that a great event?" said Roper, recalling county residents' enthusiastic participation in each month's activity.

After being named tourism chairman by the chamber of commerce, Thompson created a smaller celebration - called White Post Celebrates - to promote the county, and organized the event for several years. "He was our own P.T. Barnum," said Susan Bailey, who worked for Thompson as executive director of the chamber when he served as its president in 1990. "He was such a promoter, but a selfless promoter. His heart was behind everything he did. He was the type of person you couldn't say 'no' to."

For example, if a bus came through the county to see his shop, Thompson might make a phone call to a local resident and talk him or her into giving the group a tour of the area. He always tried to persuade those who visited his business to patronize other county businesses and attractions.

Thompson was a member of the Clarke County Historical Association and the county's Industrial Development Authority. "He was a huge supporter of the sheriff's department," Roper noted. For example, Roper said, Thompson donated two radar units to the department "to slow down traffic. He was concerned with people's safety."

Michael Hobert, chairman of the Clarke Board of Supervisors, said "He was one of those guys you won't ever forget. He was so energetic. He loved his county and he served his neighbors." Thompson was generous to many county causes, but didn't make a show of it. "I am so sad for him and his family," Hobert said.

Dunning agreed his friend preferred to stay in the background. "He was a generous man, a nice man," he said. Dunning said he could have predicted Thompson's business success from an incident in second grade at Boyce. Thompson, whose father owned a store, brought in an entire box of Bazooka bubble gum. The individual sticks sold for a penny, but Thompson managed to sell the entire box for a nickle per stick. "He could sell a freezer to an Eskimo," Dunning said, adding, "I'm terribly upset, but Billy would want us to enjoy what he accomplished."

NAMGAR sends its condolences to his family.  Billy will be sorely missed by those in the antique and classic car world.

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Last updated on March 23, 2011.