A black, steel 941 Remington Noiseless Portable Typewriter on a dark wooden table attracted a small crowd Saturday at the Larry and Penny Thompson Park and Campground cabana area.
For years, it was the tool of trade that former Miami Herald humor columnist Larry Thompson used to write his daily, lighthearted column, “Life with Larry and Penny Thompson,” which chronicled the life of his family. The column became a staple for readers over morning coffee from the 1950s until his death on Feb. 18, 1973 at age 61.
“He had the writing bug since the day he was born,” said his son, Carl Thompson. “[The column] was a perfect match for his God-given talent and he didn’t care if the pay was low or hours were long.
“It was a passion that he had.”
Carl Thompson was 18 when his father died of emphysema and 21 when his mother died of leukemia. It has been 35 years since the park was dedicated to his parents, who were both supporters of wildlife beautification and preservation. On Saturday, Carl Thompson donated his father’s typewriter to the Southwest Miami-Dade park so visitors can familiarize themselves with his family in the same way readers did through his father’s columns for so many years.
“People read his columns every day,” Carl Thompson said. “They vicariously raised the Thompson children because my dad had written about us since day one.”
The column was formerly known as “Life with Larry Thompson” before he got married in 1953.
His wife, Penny, was a leader in women’s aviation in South Florida, organizing international women’s air races, publishing an aviation newspaper and spearheading the drive to name the Amelia Earhart Park in Miami
Every August, the couple took their children, Carl, Evellen and Miriam, on a month-long camping trip, ultimately covering 48 states.
During these trips, Carl and his sisters watched their father pull out his typewriter, perch it on a picnic table and stroke its keys for readers that awaited his next column — all while smoking a cigarette, which contributed to his fatal disease.
“All he wanted to do was write,” his son said.
Larry Thompson rarely depended on readers for content, but instead was easily inspired by his family’s tragedies, random occurrences and outings.
During his 23 years as a columnist, he wrote about 10,000 columns — including one of his most famous: “Hogs under my bed,” which told the story of one of the camping trips of the Thompson family.
Thompson wrote: “There are a bunch of hogs here.”
“I thought he was talking about some of the other campers,” his son told the crowd of about 30 on Saturday.
Hilda Koch of from Coral Gables laughed. She was one of Larry Thompson’s tens of thousands of readers throughout his time as a columnist.
“Every time I hear that name, it makes me smile,” Koch said.
While her husband, Brad, stripped the paper for the sports section and her children for the comics section, she was always ready for Thompson’s column in the morning.
“You just couldn’t wait to get the paper to see what Larry had to say today,” Koch said. “It was just a good way to have a happy thought for the day. It made you laugh.”
In the “walk down memory lane with Larry and Penny Thompson,” Carl Thompson also read a column written to him when he was 13. It was one that was requested from readers years after it was published.
“I want you to be a success in whatever you do,’ ” the son read out loud, “but I would much prefer that you win respect and recognition in your chosen field than to just get rich.”
According to Carl Thompson, readers enjoyed the column so much that many cut it out from the newspapers and deposited it in their safe boxes to read to their sons or grandchildren in the future.
Larry Thompson wrote: “Respect other people, but above all respect yourself. You must live with yourself, so don’t be afraid of your roommate.”
In his obituary written by Miami Herald reporters Charles Whited and Arnold Markowitz, the writers wrote: “ ‘Life with Larry Thompson’ was that kind of column, that anachronism in a metropolis, but an anachronism that thousands loved.’ ”