Thompson’s passing a “great loss” for Aurora

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, March 29, 2023

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Strong, intelligent, hardworking, warm, a good listener and a community minded role model were words used to describe the late Billy Thompson, of Aurora, by his friends Jasper and Leslie Mills and Jesse Robinson. Thompson died on Saturday, March 25 at his home. 

Thompson, 96, was a well-admired and respected lifelong resident of Aurora who owned one of the nation’s largest white potato farms for processing potatoes for fries and chips in the 1970’s. Thompson is credited with building a conveyor system for harvesting, grading and loading large quantities of potatoes. This replaced an arduous task of bagging the potatoes before they were transported. According to this obituary, this became a common practice among farmers nationwide for shipping bulk orders of white potatoes. 

Thompson’s ingenuity also inspired the construction of a scale that weighed large trucks beside his farm supply store. It was the first of its kind in this area when he built it. Thompson utilized his mechanical engineering degree from N.C. State University to figure out how to build the conveyor system and scale. 

Thompson offered employment to young men like Robinson and Jasper while they were in high school. Robinson returned later in 1964 after serving in the U.S. Air Force and worked for Thompson for about 20 years. Jasper worked for Thompson for a couple of summers in the late 50’s and early 1960’s as a potato and cucumber grater before Thompson built the conveyor system. He also worked with turkeys Thompson raised as well as harvested and hung tobacco. 

Robinson drove a tractor plowing the potato fields and planted soybeans on Thompson’s farm. “He was a strong working individual,” Robinson said, describing Thompson’s work ethic.  

Jasper said Thompson had a ”presence” throughout his life in Aurora not only on the farm, but also at his farm supply company that started on Main Street before moving to its current location on Highway 33.

“Ever since I was a small kid I can remember the different things he was involved in. He was involved in the church. He was involved in the town.” 

Both Robinson and Jasper shared that Thompson was not only a farmer who provided employment to young men, but he planted and cultivated seeds of faith as a Sunday school teacher at Aurora United Methodist Church in a class for young men.

“All of the young men in my church looked forward to when they reached the age they could get in Billy’s class,” Jasper said. That age was about 12 or 13 years old. 

He continued to say that Thompson is someone he’ll “always remember and respect.”

One of the many reasons why Jasper respects Thompson is because he was a World War II veteran who served in the “Battle of the Bulge.” According to his obituary, Thompson served in the Third Army, Second Infantry Division which fought on the front lines of the battle. Thompson earned three battlefield promotions and a Bronze Star. Leslie said in the 60 plus years since returning from the war, Thompson only spoke once of the combat he witnessed. The Mills’ son wanted to interview Thompson for a school project and he agreed. Leslie said Thompson’s wife, Jackie, sat in front of her husband like a child listening to him speak because she had never heard him share stories from his service. 

Leslie shared that Thompson and Jackie were very close and “you didn’t see one without the other.” They did everything together, she said including walking the dogs. “In that regard they were a really special couple in their love and friendship. They truly enjoyed each other’s company. I think that was a real model for everyone else, too.” 

“It’s going to be a loss for our community and everybody knows it, because he knew everybody and everybody knew him,” Robinson said. “Him and his wife were great people. They were community people. They were church people. They were people’s people…He is going to be missed in our community,” Robinson said.