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Columbia Missourian

FROM READERS: T. Gale Thompson shares his autobiography

By T. Gale Thompson/Missourian Reader
May 2, 2012 | 7:22 p.m. CDT
Jesse, Kim, Gale and Micah Thompson, left to right, sit together with Missouri sweatshirts on. Gale Thompson, as well as his wife and two sons, is a fan of Missouri sports.

T. Gale Thompson is a Columbia resident and professor emeritus of psychology at Bethany College in West Virginia. He is a big fan of Facebook and has more than 3,000 Facebook friends.

Dr. Thompson shared some highlights of his interesting life with the Missourian. Would you like to do the same? See the invitation in the box, below left.

Everone has a story to tell. What's yours?

With this story, Gale Thompson has shared his interesting life with the rest of us. You're invited to do the same. What stories do you have to share from your own life or from the lives of the people around you?

Not sure where to start? Check out this list of questions from the nonprofit project called StoryCorps, which collects stories from everyday Americans. Then consider sharing the answers with us — in text, audio or video form.

Do you wish the rest of the community knew about your neighbor's childhood? Your father's war service? Your child's travels? Your own community service? If you ask the questions and send us the answers, we'll share them with our readers.

Send your story to

— Joy Mayer, director of community outreach

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Once a Missourian, always a Missourian

I had never been out of the state of Missouri until age 12 but ended up in the Philippine Islands when I did leave the state (mother died when I was 5, father when I was 12, went to live with oldest sister whose husband was in the Army and stationed in the Philippines). I enlisted in the Army after high school in order to get the GI Bill and go to college. I had a cushy job in the Army as personal secretary to the Commanding General of the 3rd Armored Division, stationed in Frankfort, Germany; our main claim to fame: Elvis Presley was in our division, where he met his first wife, Priscilla — she was 16 when they first met, the daughter of an Army sergeant in the division.

I returned to Columbia to attend MU after my Army experience. I received a bachelor's degree in psychology and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate. I was granted several U.S.P.H.S  fellowships as a graduate student when I was here off and on from 1957 to 1971. 

I got married in 1968. My wife had been a student at Stephens College but finished up at MU. Our first son was born out by McBaine in an old farmhouse we rented. We have two sons, wonderful experience, and I love them deeply. I worked in many different mental health settings in and around Columbia while finishing my Ph.D. in clinical psychology.

A major impact on my life was doing my year's clinical internship in Palo Alto, Calif., working at a VA Hospital but living in Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco just as hippie movement was beginning (1964-65). I was one of the original hippies, except that I was different in that I actually had a regular job. But my year there was very positive, in that thanks to the influence of the laid-back, cool people there, I became less intellectual and serious and more mellow and fun-loving; it also had an important influence on my approach to teaching, in that instead of stressing knowledge-for-its-own sake, I focused more on the application and relevance of knowledge to one's personal life. In fact, I used to tell my students that if they didn't understand why I was discussing a certain psychological topic, they should raise their hand and say, "So what?" My students liked my classes in that I allowed for a lot of interaction and experiences in class, experiential exercises, small group discussions and writing in journals where they would relate what they were learning to their personal lives.

I have lived in 12 states and three foreign countries (Philippines, Germany, China) and also taught on Semester-At-Sea, a high honor as psychology professors from all over the U.S. applied for the position. We visited 11 countries, (Spain, Greece, Egypt, Israel, India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan), four days in each country, classes held on ship in between ports. My family was also allowed to go on the trip, so at ages 12 and 10, they had been around the world. We had T-shirts that say, "From Ft. Lauderdale to Seattle — The Long Way!"

I worked as a clinical psychologist in a maximum security penitentiary in West Virginia one day a week for many years while teaching at Bethany College. There are many interesting stories about some of the inmates I was seeing in therapy, including one inmate who masterminded and recruited two other inmates to dig a tunnel 6 feet down, 32 feet across, and 6 feet up out of the prison. The story made USA Today, with a diagram of the escape plan. The warden got fired the day after the escape, but I didn’t tell him that I had given the mastermind of the escape plan a motivational psych book entitled "You Can Do It," (but didn’t intend for him to use it for the purpose he did!).

After teaching for 35 years at Bethany College, W. Va., I decided to take "early" retirement at age 75, was still playing noon hoops with faculty and students until I retired June 2009. I decided to return to Missouri and retire in Columbia. I always loved Columbia, always something to do with a major university and two liberal arts colleges, also kept up with Missouri football and basketball and a big fan ever since I left Columbia. And for good measure, I still have relatives living in Missouri.

At age 77, I am still very active and involved in the world and with other people. I jog every morning at Stephens Park, which is very close to where I live in Columbia. I also participate in a weekly drum circle (reverting back to my hippie days), both as a drummer and as one of the unofficial photographers of the group. 

My three secrets for a successful old age (or any age for that matter):

I like having the "courage of my confusion" about life and just enjoying the Magical Mystery Tour on this beautiful little planet in the midst of a vast universe; talking about miracles, it is truly a miracle to even be here; no one in the history of humankind knows for sure why we are here or what it's all about, so we should just enjoy the miracle of being alive. To quote my favorite philosopher, Willie Nelson, "We'd probably all be a lot happier if we'd just remember how lucky we are to be alive on this beautiful planet."

I have been working on a personal growth/self-help book based on my many years of teaching psychology courses oriented toward the personal growth of students and stressing the relevance and application of knowledge. I also have over 3,000 "friends" on Facebook and try to keep my interest in teaching alive by sharing the knowledge I have accumulated over the years with hopefully meaningful, insightful and at times humorous posts on Facebook.

I am interested in part-time work as a clinical psychologist somewhere in or around Columbia, and I have a Missouri psychology license. Any information and/or possibilities would be much appreciated (email:

I am happy to be back in Columbia, where I spent so many years getting all my degrees. It's truly a wonderful place to live, not too small, not too big, and Missourians are among the friendliest people on earth.

Thanks for reading!
T. Gale Thompson, Ph.D
Emeritus Professor of Psychology

This story is part of a section of the Missourian called From Readers, which is dedicated to your voices and your stories. We hope you'll consider sharing. Here's howSupervising editor is Joy Mayer.