His Life

Living Unapologetically: Life is a Short, One-Way Trip

The Beginning

John (aka – Johnny, JT, Too Tall, Spanky, Mr.T, Captain John) was born on West 109th Street in New York on August 17th, 1946 to Douglas (Stoke-on-Trent in Central England) and Bridget (Corr) Thompson (Toombridge, County Antrim, Northern Ireland). The family moved to West 106th Street then West 204th. 

He was the youngest of their five children (Vincent, Dolly, Mary and Joe). Highlights of John's childhood include fishing in Central and Van Cortlandt Park, box car racing down the streets of Upper Manhattan and being fiercely protected by his older brothers. 

The Formative Years/ Career 

While John received good grades and loved history and geography, the formality and strict nuns at school (not to mention math) and John's free spirit were like oil and water. And though he spoke fondly of his training with the Jesuits, the Brothers’ views and John’s were not necessarily aligned. John was, unsurprisingly, not destined for priesthood.

John joined the Coast Guard in 1963, and after a year of training in Cape May and Alexandria, Virginia, he served on the Kwajalein base in the Marshall Islands and on Palawan Island in the Philippines. Just 19 years old, his job was working the LORAN, guiding ships and planes traveling from Guam to Vietnam and Laos. John had three pets in the Philippines (yes, seriously): a monkey named Sally, a dog named Trumpetao and a cockatoo named Elvis. He finished his time with the Coast Guard on Governer's Island doing Shore Patrol, and left in 1967 just as many of his friends were being drafted to Vietnam. 

In 1967 John and his buddies ran out of beer at the Support the Boys in Vietnam Parade and put a call out to the crowd. Carol Monge and her friends answered that call, which (long story short) ended up with John proposing two years later on the Broadway - 7th Avenue local train during rush hour. 

In 1968 John put on a tie (!) and started working as a Margin Clerk with Kidder Peabody for $85 per week. His office job lasted a total of three months before he threw said tie to the ground and got a job as a fishing mate on the boat, Apache, out of City Island, tripling his income and living an exponentially happier life. In June 1968 a friend of his sister Dolly convinced him to take the FDNY test, a decision that would change the trajectory of his life. 

In March 1970 John joined the FDNY with Engine 84 on West 161st Street & Amsterdam Avenue…“Where Harlem Meets the Heights”, and spent the bulk of his career there (1970 - 1986). John cited going down Broadway on the back step of Engine 84 during his first run as the most treasured memory of his life.  

In 1986 his career started winding down, first on the Staten Island fire boats and then with Engine 320 on Francis Lewis Blvd. in Queens where things were a bit quieter. During this time John earned his 100 ton Captain's license and, officially, became Captain John. While excited for this next chapter, his heart never left Engine 84, and he would later regale his children and grandchildren with stories from back in the hey-day (see videos for the "Foam Prank" story). 

The Family Years

During the 1970’s and 80’s John lived on Long Island with life centered on the family, fishing, the FDNY, talking about fishing, and figuring out a way to go fishing again without getting in trouble.

There were also toga parties, ski trips, Disney, Captree, family gatherings with Aunts, Uncles and cousins, Fishtales Charter Service, cheering at Tim’s hockey games, Saturday morning pancakes, bacon and cartoons, watching NY Giants, Rangers (Potvin still sucks) and Yankees games, Sunday morning Irish music on WFUV, loud and terrible singing, multiple stray dogs and cats who found a home at 59 Sagebrush Lane, and winter trips to the Florida Keys with his fishing buddies. He was shockingly good dancer “for an Irishman.”

John’s idea of interior decorating included massive hammerhead sharks and tuna mounted on the living room wall and other fish themed treasures. He loved talking to everyone and anyone, hooky days spent fishing with his kids, probably too much beer, and he could always be counted on to lend a hand.

He would tell his favorite joke over and over again: 
"Two fish meet in the middle of the desert. One says to the other "long time no sea!" 

When asked about the most embarrassing moment of his life, John cited a Captain's gig he took during this time. Captain John accidentally drove a yacht and its fancy guests up on to some rocks in New York Harbor on July 4th and got stuck there, no fireworks to be seen. His then high-school aged daughter, who happened to be there, helpfully coined a new drink "Regency on the Rocks" and teased him mercilessly with this for many years to come. 

We remember seeing him cry twice during these years: when his mother, Bridget, passed and when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. When asked, he described his greatest sadness as "losing my parents and my siblings so young." 


John retired from the fire department in 1991 and spent several years working part-time jobs between New York and Florida, before moving to the Florida Keys full-time.

He initially lived a full-throttle life, but over the next twenty years, John would live an increasingly slower life (as far as he let on anyway!), cheering his children on through college, travels and building lives of their own.

When asked about his legacy around this time, John said "I never think about legacy issues. I spent 25 years of my life in service to others. I enjoyed it. Never felt like a sacrifice. I've been in places most people have never been, fires etc. The only thing that's ever scared me was when one of the firemen grabbed my leg from under the bed while we were watching the movie Carrie." 

John would tell everyone that his kids were his best friends, but this wasn’t the whole story. Everyone loved our Dad, and throughout his life our friends became his friends, and his friends became family.

Highlights during this time include several trips back to Ireland, summers in Montauk (before it became “full of damned hipsters”), and hosting many friends in the Keys.


John became a grandfather “Pop Pop” for the first time in 2009, and during the next 11 years developed a very close relationship with each of his four grandchildren: Barrett, Ryan, Norah and Nolan.

His favorite memories with them consisted of – you guessed it – fishing, but also an epic family trip to Disney, telling stories, wrestling with the boys, several stints as an emergency “Supernanny” and watching them open Christmas and birthday presents, which he would always tell them was his mom’s favorite thing with her grandkids too.

When asked what he loved most about being a grandfather he said "by far getting a hug from one of the kids. There is no other feeling that compares." 

Winding Down 

John spent his final years enjoying his quiet life in the Keys, watching for manatees and salt water crocodiles in the backyard, feeding the fish off his dock, watching for the Keys’ famous green flash at sunset, going out on his friend Tim’s boat, reconnecting with nieces and nephews, hosting visitors, and driving for Uber for pocket money and fun conversation.

Always an early riser, you could set your watch by his morning routine of coffee (7 Eleven, Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks) and the New York Post.

John had health challenges during all of these years, but refused to let them dictate life, unintentionally fooling everyone into believing that he would live forever.

Passing & Legacy 

On Friday, February 12th these challenges would ultimately overtake him, and John passed peacefully, in his comfy chair at home overlooking the canal behind his house.  As far as we can tell, his last words that morning (via text) were a joke about a boat. Of course.

John will be remembered for his generosity and willingness to ALWAYS help where he could, love of laughter and storytelling, appreciation for nature and beauty, and, above all, his love for his family and friends.

He leaves his children, grandchildren, friends and family with these life lessons:

1.Treat others the way you want to be treated; say I love you often so people know

2.Never leave fish to find fish

3.Always carry a Band-Aid in your wallet

4.Don’t start something unless you’re going to finish it, and there’s no quitting halfway through

5.Always cheer for a good play, even if it’s for the other team (unless it’s the Islanders) and your friends don’t approve

6.If you think you have it tough, walk a mile in someone else’s shoes

7.Be nice to everyone, regardless of their race, socioeconomic status or differences

8.Talk to strangers; they are only strangers until they become friends

9.The first warm day of Spring is Hooky Day

10.Learn to laugh at yourself, early and often

11.God is everywhere, not just in church

12.Most of life success is about being lucky, not good

13.Respect Mother Earth; take time to appreciate the beauty of the natural world

14.Never leave the stadium early, even if your team is getting walloped and you’re going to sit in traffic for hours

15. If you take a kid fishing you'll never have to go looking for them 

16. One million photos of sunsets and fishing trips are absolutely not enough

We interviewed our Dad several times over the years, in both spoken and written forms. At the close of our last written session, when asked if there were anything else he would like to say, John wrote this:

"WOO HOO! WHAT A RIDE! I would do it all over again, with no hesitation. Yes, there were some bumps along the way. But all and all a great life. Dumb luck followed me all the way through." 

Written by Tim Thompson and Laurie Thompson