Obituary: Terry Thompson nurtured words, language

  • Article by: BILL MCAULIFFE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 24, 2011 - 8:48 PM

Former Pillsbury and governmental communications executive also led the Minnesota News Council.

In a career that combined corporate management with community and creative impact, Terry Thompson's critical tool was a passion for words and language.

Thompson, a former vice president of public affairs for Pillsbury, chairman of advisers for Project for Pride in Living and president of the Minnesota News Council who earned a master's degree in creative writing during the final years of his career, died Sept. 29 after suffering a form of dementia for several years. He was 70.

"Terry had a real flair for words," said Lynn Casey, chair and chief executive officer of the public relations consulting firm Padilla Speer Beardsley, who met Thompson during Pillsbury's takeover by the British conglomerate Grand Met in 1989. "He loved excellent writing of all kinds. He also expected those who worked for him to share his love of the English language. He was very insistent that we use it well and approach each word as though it was our last.

"It's a tired phrase, but I think in the best sense he really was a Renaissance man," Casey added.

Thompson was born in Buffalo, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University before earning a master's degree in communications at Syracuse University. He worked with Fisher-Price, Quaker Oats, General Mills and Pillsbury, then signed on with the Minnesota Department of Administration, where former Pillsbury colleague David Fisher had been appointed commissioner by Gov. Jesse Ventura.

"He brought to Pillsbury and to state government the ability to put pen to paper and come up with a speech," Fisher said. "He was thoughtful and deliberative. He was extremely intelligent.

"There were times when I was hotheaded enough to need some counsel, and he was a good judge of that," Fisher added. "I considered him to be a good friend."

While at Pillsbury, Thomspon called Joe Selvaggio, founder of Project for Pride in Living, to ask how he could help the agency's mission of helping poor people become more self-sufficient.

"He'd get right in there with them," said Selvaggio. "He wasn't some stuffy corporate executive at all. He enjoyed associating with the poor as much as the powerful, rich people.

"He was an executive who really wanted to help people just because it was the right thing to do," Selvaggio added. "He was a good man -- a smart man and a good man."

Thompson brought an interest in media fairness to the Minnesota News Council, which refereed disputes between news media and news figures.

"He had a very strong mind and a very gentle manner," said Gary Gilson, the council's former executive director. "I wouldn't say he was a decent human being. I would say he was an exemplary human being."

Thompson also served as chairman of the board of the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis.

He is survived by his wife of 32 years, Lynne; daughter Kristin Mannoni; a brother, Michael; a sister, Sheila Gunther, and one grandson. A private service has been held.

Bill McAuliffe • 612-673-7646

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