Robert Thomas Thompson, 69, a labor management relations lawyer who served as board chairman in 1983 of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, died Jan. 20 at George Washington University Medical Center after a heart attack. He lived in Greenville, S.C., but had a home in Washington from 1979 to 1999.
Mr. Thompson had a working relationship with the chamber stretching back two decades by the time he completed the one-year term as chairman. His predecessor, J. Paul Thayer, had resigned to become deputy secretary of defense.
A principal partner from 1964 to 1999 of what became Thompson and Hutson law firm in Greenville and Washington, Mr. Thompson had served as the chamber's southeast regional vice chairman and labor relations committee chairman.
As the latter, he successfully orchestrated the business federation's efforts to block the 1978 Labor Reform Act, which would have limited anti-union tactics by employers. Business organizations said it failed to address illegal actions by labor unions.
Thomas Donohue, who worked at the chamber in 1978 and is now its president and chief executive, said in an interview that Mr. Thompson was among the first Washington strategists to use then-new, post-Watergate lobbying methods that did not rely solely on the support of top committee chairmen.
Constituents "began to elect people who were far more independent of party, and the way we got things done was by grass roots. . . . [Mr. Thompson's] efforts on that regard eventually propelled him into the chairmanship of the chamber," Donohue said.
Mr. Thompson was born in Pontiac, Ill., and received a bachelor's and law degree from Emory University. He worked at an Atlanta law firm from 1952 to 1964.
He was a past member of Emory's Board of Visitors and past chairman of Furman University's Board of Advisors. Thompson Gallery at Furman is named in his honor.
Mr. Thompson was a fellow of the American Bar Foundation, an adviser to the Associated General Contractors of American and Associated Builders & Contractors, and his memberships included the Metropolitan Club in Washington.
Survivors include his wife of 49 years, Elaine Cheshire Thompson, of Greenville; three sons, David L., of McLean, Robert T. Jr., of Atlanta, and Dr. Randall C., of Kansas City, Kan.; a sister; and five grandchildren.