Kenneth W. Thompson, director of University of Virginia’s Miller Center, dies

February 12, 2013

Kenneth W. Thompson, 91, a scholar of foreign relations and U.S. government who directed the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for two decades, died Feb. 2 at an assisted living facility in Charlottesville.

He had double pneumonia, said his daughter-in-law Pamela Thompson.

Dr. Thompson led the Miller Center, a nonpartisan institute for the study of the presidency, public policy and governance, from 1978 until his retirement in 1998.

In a statement announcing his death, U-Va. credited him with helping create and expand the institute’s speaker series known as the Forum program, the Presidential Oral History Program and bipartisan commissions on national issues. He continued to lead the Forum program until 2004.

Kenneth Winfred Thompson was born in Des Moines. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 1943 and a doctorate in political science and international relations from the University of Chicago in 1950. He was an Army veteran of World War II.


Kenneth W. Thompson directed the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for two decades. (University of Virginia’s Miller Center)

Dr. Thompson worked for the Rockefeller Foundation from the 1950s to the 1970s, including as vice president for international programs. He taught at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., before joining U-Va. in 1975, the year the Miller Center was founded. He wrote and edited numerous publications on public policy and foreign affairs and held several endowed lectureships.

Dr. Thompson was a Charlottesville resident. His first marriage, to the former Lucille Bergquist, ended in divorce. His wife of 24 years, Beverly Bourret Thompson, died in 1998.

Survivors include three sons from his first marriage, Kenneth C. Thompson of Fairfax City, Paul A. Thompson of New York City and James D. Thompson of Rochester, N.Y.; a stepdaughter, Carolyn C. Cordry of Scottsdale, Ariz.; and four grandchildren.

Emily Langer is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. She has written about national and world leaders, celebrated figures in science and the arts, and heroes from all walks of life.
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