The Reverend Robert H. Thompson, Phelps Minister at Phillips Church, Phillips Exeter Academy, has held that position (formerly known simply as “School Minister”) since 1986. He is a 1972 graduate of that institution, having entered Phillips Exeter as a tenth grader in 1969. It was a time of great societal energy and turmoil. He speaks of it as a slice of that narrow period of American history when it was popular to be black. Before Exeter, Rev. Thompson had been a student in the black public schools of Bluefield, WV. His father taught at Bluefield State College, an historically black institution, and his mother was a social worker. He and his brother grew up in the midst of an economically diverse, multi-class community of black people in Bluefield that was greatly enriched by the presence of many students from up and down the east coast. The racial and societal strife that affected much of the country was not spared Bluefield. In the mid-sixties, a dorm at Bluefield State was bombed. Soon, afterwards the dorms were closed, making it impossible for most students to remain in the community. Bluefield State began its decline as a black college, educators and other professionals began to leave and soon, as if to place a nail in the coffin of this rich community of his origins, the local school board decided to close all of the black elementary, middle and high schools. The students were assigned to classes at the white schools, and the administrators, coaches and all others with any responsibility were sent into virtual oblivion. It was while reflecting on these matters that Rev. Thompson and his father began to look elsewhere for the continuation of his education. Exeter was looking, also, for promising talent in America’s black communities. They found each other.

Much of his life has been lived in the midst of contrasting communities: predominantly black and majority white; intellectually elitist and impoverished basic; economically privileged and struggling Appalachian. Often he has served as a bridge between those communities. He has been educated at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT, Union Theological Seminary in New York City, Payne Theological Seminary in Wilberforce, Ohio. He has served as pastor at churches in Bellaire and Urbana, OH. He has co-created a Non-Governmental Organization in Ghana (The Thompson Foundation) and been honored by being named a traditional chief in that country in the village that adopted him. (He is Nana Kwodwo Bannin, Nkosuahene of Ampabame #1!) He became an ordained Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He has performed as an actor and singer in various venues in the United States and Canada. These experiences have helped Rev. Thompson grow aware of the struggles often present when trying to foster effective communication across barriers that normally separate people and groups. For him, communication requires all gifts to be effective: spoken words, sung poems, serious smile, flowing tears, open mind, receptive heart. These human gifts are those we have in common. They unite us and they tear barriers down.

Rev. Thompson is married to Nadine Abraham Thompson, a clinical social worker and entrepreneur. They are the parents of a daughter, Camilla and a son, Isaiah.