William Bryce Thompson IV of Princeton died on Friday, June 21, surrounded by family and friends. Thompson was born on Aug. 18, 1931, in his father’s home in Valley Head, Alabama, but he is well known as a longtime Princetonian. He grew up at 195 Nassau Street in the house his grandfather built, where he also later had his office.
After graduating from Princeton High School, Thompson attended seven different colleges for one semester each, as he often recounted, saying “Seven colleges and no degree.” His college career had more to do with tourism than education, and also the fact that Thompson had to pay for college himself by teaching tennis, selling Christmas trees out of his front yard in the fall, and sometimes through his poker winnings. He was known to say, “One semester was all I could afford.”
Thompson volunteered to be drafted and was sent by the United States Army to occupied Germany during the last year of Germany’s occupation. He was initially assigned as a typist, but his superiors soon realized that Thompson’s skills did not lie there and he was reassigned to head up the tennis program the army established to rebuild relationships among the formerly warring nations. In winter, Thompson was assigned to ski for the U.S. Army.
Known to many as “the Land Man,” he started his company Thompson Land in 1958, and he quickly became one of the largest landowners in New Jersey. He was known as a savvy, sharp businessman and “wheeler dealer” and his motto was “Buy low, sell high.” He started buying older homes to renovate and resell in 1956, and bought his first farm, 130 acres in Princeton Township, in 1959. Over the course of his career, Thompson bought and sold more than 15,000 acres of land. Thompson Management, LLC currently manages more than 6,500 acres of land, including commercial and residential properties in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Puerto Rico.
Thompson loved tennis and was not only a fine teaching pro, but also an award-winning competitive player. He was also an excellent horseman. He took up riding in his 40s and won the Fall Hills Steeplechase, was an award-winning polo player though his mid 70s, and served as master of hounds of the Amwell Valley Hounds fox hunting club. He was a member of the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club in Switzerland, where he raced the skeleton toboggan on the famous Cresta Run and won the World Seniors race. His endeavors included hang-gliding, sky-diving, scuba diving, fast cars, and fast motorcycles. He loved his Triumph motorcycle.
His family members said he will always be remembered at his permanent spot at the head of the family table where they said he prevailed with sharp wit, gentlemanly charm, and always with a twinkle in his eye. Family members said his unique style of tough love, perseverance and strength will all be sorely missed.
Thompson was predeceased by his father, William Bryce Thompson III, his mother, Felicita Doris Golden, and his brother, John Golden Thompson. He is survived by his wife, Grace White Thompson; his children, Lise Thompson and William Bryce Thompson V from his first wife Siri Willits; his son-in-law, Robert Brander, his daughter-in-law, Kristen Thompson; his children, Barton Thompson and Hannah Thompson from his second wife, Frances Lippincott; his grandchildren, Nina Brander, William Bryce Thompson VI, and Finley Thompson; and his stepchildren, Wilson Weed, Mary Grace Hodgkins, and Morgan Weed.
Visitation hours are from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday, June 24 at Kimble Funeral Home on 1 Hamilton Ave. in Princeton. The funeral Mass is at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, June 25 at St. Paul’s Roman Catholic Church, 214 Nassau Street, Princeton. The burial service will be held at Princeton Cemetery following the procession from the church. A reception will be held at the Nassau Club. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931or the D&R Greenway Land Trust, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton, NJ 08540.