The distinguished neurobiologist Wesley Jay Thompson died March 26, 2019 in Bryan/College Station, Texas from complications of kidney cancer. Wesley was born in Alice, Texas December 10, 1947; he grew up with two siblings - Mary and Pat —living first in Alice and later at the family farm in Crawford. His father, Jay, was a charming, rough-around-the-edges Texas oil man and entrepreneur/inventor, and his mother, Harriett (née McMahan), was a devoted school teacher who believed deeply in the value of education.
Wesley graduated from Crawford High School in Crawford, Texas in 1966 and from North Texas State University with honors in 1970. He went on to earn a PhD in molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley in 1975 where he met his beloved mentor, the preeminent biologist and scholar Dr. Gunther Stent. His doctoral research explored how neural circuits function and used leeches as a model for more complex organisms. He moved next to the University of Oslo as a postdoctoral fellow in neurobiology. Wes loved Norway: he skied to work and went on long treks through the Norwegian mountains and glaciers, taking photos of fjords and snow. With his mentor, Dr. Jan K. S. Jansen, he did pioneering work on the formation of neural connections in mammalian skeletal muscles. This work provided a major advance in developmental neurobiology by showing for the first time that the arrangement of neural connections in mature muscles is dependent on the level of the neurons' electrical activity during neonatal development.
In 1977 he moved to Washington University in St. Louis as a postdoctoral fellow with the well-known neurobiologist Dr. Dale Purves before finally coming home to Texas in 1979 to join the Zoology faculty at University of Texas, Austin. He married Mary Ann Rankin, his wife of 25 years, in 1986; they had one child, Annie. In 2013 he moved to Texas A&M University, College Station, where he joined the Department of Biology and the Institute for Neuroscience and where he worked until his death.
Throughout his career Dr. Thompson published more than 60 ground breaking research articles in peer reviewed journals. Most of the articles concerned the development of nerve-muscle interactions and how they are affected by disease, aging, trauma and regeneration. He was named a Searle Scholar in 1981, received a National Institutes of Health Research Career Development Award in 1984, the NIH Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award in 2001, and a University of Texas Teaching Excellence Award in 2000.
Wesley was compassionate beyond measure. He could never bear to see injustice or pain and sought throughout his life to ease the way for others. An avid gardener, he grew enough tomatoes every year to feed his entire department, and rejoiced until the end of his life in being among growing things. He aimed to teach his daughter and all of his students that curiosity and kindness are the best foundation for a joyful and productive life.
Wesley is pre-deceased by his brother, Pat; his mother, Harriett; his father, Jay; and his brother-in-law, Robert Graf. He is survived by his daughter, Annie; his sister, Mary Graf (née Thompson); his niece and nephew, Soozi Kershner and Eric Graf; three grand-nephews, Cole, Chase and Cash Kershner; and by all the colleagues and students who were touched by his knowledge and kindness.
A memorial service will be held at 10:30am on April 28, 2019 in the Interdisciplinary Life Sciences building on Texas A&M campus.