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Thompson was born in Devlin, Ontario, Canada, grew up in Chilliwack, BC and studied at the University of British Columbia, where he received his B.A. (1925) and M.A. (1927) in classics. In 1929 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan; at Michigan it was Benjamin Dean Meritt (later a faculty member at the Institute for Advanced Study) who introduced Thompson to the project which would occupy him for the rest of his life. The American School of Classical Studies at Athens was about to begin the excavation of the agora in Athens and Thompson was selected as a fellow of the school to aid in the project. Excavations began on May 25, 1931; Thompson would work on the excavations for the next 39 years. He was married to the archaeologist Dorothy Burr Thompson.
Life in Chilliwack:
Homer grew up as the second oldest child of William and Gertrude Thompson. He spent the younger years of his life between Rosedale and Chilliwack BC. Since the high school was not easily accessible from the Lauderdale Farm he and his sister Jean boarded with Grace Baldwin and her family on Williams St. in Chilliwack. In his time at the Chilliwack Senior Secondary School he was influenced by principal Harry Fraser who taught and encouraged young Homer in his pursuits of Latin. Homer’s father, who studied Classics before adopting the farm life, also encouraged his son in his pursuits in the Classical field.
At the early age of 15 Homer graduated from Chilliwack High School and was on his way to the University of British Columbia. While at UBC he participated on the track team, was the business manager for Student Publications and the president of the Classics Club. On top of all of these extracurricular activities, in his first 3 years at the university Homer had earned his BA with Honours in Classics with a focus on Latin. He continued on with his MA, which he received with first-class honours in 1927. At this time he was only 19 years old and became the youngest Classics Professor in Canada. In only another 2 years Homer was being awarded his Ph.D. in Archaeology from the University of Michigan.
Soon after becoming a Doctorate in Classics he was awarded a scholarship of $1500 a year for three years to assist in the excavations in Greece, working mainly on one in Corinth and another in Athens. After spending some time in Athens he became passionate about the Athenian Agora and the possible work to be done there. Dorothy’s concentration of study revolved around excavating and publishing her finds on the Athenian gardens and terracotta figurines.
Excepting the war years, from 1933 to 1947 Homer (and his wife Dorothy) spent the summers of every year in Athens and the remaining months teaching at the University of Toronto. Homer met his wife Dorothy Burr while in Athens excavating in 1932. At the time she was the only female fellow working on the excavations in Athens. She also was a Classics enthusiast and worked with him at the Institute for Advanced Study as well as in Athens. Dorothy’s concentrations of study revolved around excavating and publishing her finds on Athenian gardens as well as terracotta figurines. As Homer recalls it, Dorothy was “one of [his] more remarkable finds.” A year after they married in 1934, Dorothy gave birth to twins, Hilary and Hope, and three years after that they were blessed with another daughter Pamela.
Thompson was Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study, where he had joined the faculty in 1947.
Thompson received numerous awards during his long career. These included: Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1957), the Gold Medal for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement from the Archaeological Institute of America (1972), the Lucy Wharton Drexel Gold Medal of the University Museum at the University of Pennsylvania (1978), the Kenyon Medal for Classical Studies from the British Academy (1991), and the Thomas Jefferson Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities from the American Philosophical Society (1996).
Thompson died in Hightstown, New Jersey.
- Chilliwack Museum and Archives
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 14 April 2011.
- "Gold Medal Award for Distinguished Archaeological Achievement". Archaeological Institute of America. Retrieved 14 April 2011.