Thompsons reveal family secret

By Randall MellJanuary 14, 2012, 2:00 pm

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. – Love finds a way.

Through hardship, through heartache, through the most traumatic loss a family can endure, love finds a way.

That’s the message that comes through the delicate family secret the Thompsons have decided to reveal for the first time publicly in this story.

Photos courtesy of the Thompson family

Top left: Lexi Thompson, Curtis Thompson, Nicholas
Thompson; Bottom left: Curt and Judy Thompson as
newlyweds; Middle: The Thompson siblings; Top right: Judy
and Curt Thompson on their wedding day, March 8, 1980;
Bottom right: Scott and Judy Thompson as newlyweds.

With Nicholas, 29, having already broken through to the PGA Tour, with Lexi, 16, swiftly becoming an international star, with Curtis, 19, an LSU freshman having won the Dixie Amateur just three weeks ago, you know the Thompsons as an emerging golf family phenomenon. Really, the game has never seen anything like them, anything like the potential they have to make meaningful marks on both the PGA Tour and LPGA.

You may think you know their remarkable story, but you don’t really, not unless you’re within their tight circle of family and friends.

You may see this family’s strong bond. You may have even seen it at Heron Bay and the Dixie Amateur last month, when Curtis won just a couple miles from their Coral Springs, Fla., home. You may have seen it in how Scott and Judy Thompson, the parents, watched every shot Curtis struck with Nicholas, Lexi, Grandma Mimi and Uncle Jimmy at their side. Every single shot. You may have seen them all together watching Nicholas play The Honda Classic at PGA National just up the road from their home.

What you didn’t see, what you couldn’t have seen, is how this bond was forged from utter ruin.

Those intimate friends who know the family secret marvel at what the Thompsons have built from rubble, from hearts broken into a million pieces by a tragic accident 29 years ago.

They are revealing their scars reluctantly, only because they have heard whispers grow more loudly, because they dread gossip taking cruel, inaccurate twists. They’re disappointed they feel pressure to share private family matters, but they’re doing it so the story isn’t turned into something ugly.

Here it is, the simple and complicated truth: Scott Thompson isn’t really Nicholas’ father. Well, not his biological father, though Nicholas will tell you Scott is his father in every other way imaginable.

Scott’s oldest brother by four years, Paul Curtis Thompson, is Nicholas’ father. He went by the name Curt, and he was Judy’s high school sweetheart at South Plantation High in Plantation, Fla. Curt and Judy married on March 8, 1980, five years after meeting, after making a pact that they both would finish college before exchanging vows.

Two years later, Nicholas was born, his birth feeling like a miracle on Christmas Day. The feelings of wonder and joy this gift brought, though, were leveled in a devastating blow just eight weeks after his birth.

Nicholas would never get to know his biological father.

Curt died in a skiing accident in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado on Feb. 21, 1983.

Curt loved skiing. He was 25 at the time, working in the credit department at a GMAC office near the couple’s Davie, Fla., townhouse. Eager to make the most of good powder at Arapahoe Basin in the White River National Forest, Curt kissed Judy and young Nicholas goodbye to head out on a short ski trip with his three best pals. With brother Scott, with best friend Marty Mattone, with brother-in-law Jimmy Fischi, Curt relished the camaraderie, but the trip turned deadly on the third day.

Photo gallery: Thompson family

Separated from his pals coming down the lower portion of a mountain slope on a morning run, Curt swerved hard to avoid some kids racing past, and he lost control on a turn, crashing off the slope and into a rock bed aside the run. At least that’s the best explanation the family received as to how Curt died.

Scott is a tough guy, people will tell you this, but his eyes water to this day telling the story.

The foursome got split up on their way down the mountain. Marty hurt his ankle, and he skipped the run, but he waited for his friends at the bottom of the slope. Scott came down first, but Curt and Jimmy never came.

“There was this little buzz from people coming down the slope, that there was a bad accident just a little ways back,” Scott said.

With one skier after another finishing and pointing back up the hill, with Curt and Jimmy still nowhere to be seen, Scott’s worry became intolerable.

“I just started panicking,” Scott said.

Yanking off his skis, Scott sprinted up the slope in his boots as fast he could, some 500 yards, around a bend, to a craggy edge of the mountain where his heart still breaks with the memory.

That’s where Scott saw his brother writhing in pain, paramedics huddled around him, trying to hold him still while treating him and preparing him for transport down the mountain. While Curt wasn’t lucid, wasn’t able to speak much to him, Scott knew the injuries were serious with paramedics radioing for a helicopter to fly Curt to a nearby hospital. Jimmy, the last to traverse the mountain, saw Scott sprinting up the hill and skied over to the commotion.

“Curt was hurting badly, in so much pain, I still hate to relive it,” Scott said.

An hour later, with Curt being treated in the back of the resort’s infirmary, Scott waited just beyond the doors. That’s where a doctor, or paramedic, Scott’s not sure exactly, finally emerged.

“I’m sorry,” he told Scott plainly. “Your brother has expired.”

Expired? The word pierced Scott like a bullet through the brain. He couldn’t get his mind around the word. Expired?

Curt was gone.

Unbelievable. Impossible. Incomprehensible.

Scott still can’t find the words for the shock that flattened him.

“He died of internal injuries,” Scott said. “Basically, he bled to death on the inside.”

Scott broke the news to his father in a telephone call, then his father called the doctor’s office back in Plantation, where Judy was working as a dental assistant. Judy was in the back preparing a dental bridge when the office manager told her she needed to go immediately to her mother’s house. Judy knew something was terribly wrong, but she didn’t know what until she saw Mimi Fischi, her mother, with a priest at the door.

Mimi was literally floored by the telephone call, by the news of Curt’s death. She was taking care of Nicholas, as she did every day when Curt and Judy went off to work.

“I put Nick in my arms immediately after getting the call and raced to a friend’s house next door,” Mimi says today. “I think I barely got him into my neighbor’s arms when I collapsed and just broke down in tears. We loved Curt. My husband just loved Curt so much.”

That’s another dizzying spin to this story. About a year before Curt’s death, Judy’s father died, bone cancer taking Vince Fischi at 51. Mimi wasn’t sure how Judy would take this blow on top of the lingering pain of the loss of her father. Mimi wasn’t sure how she would tell her daughter that Curt was dead. That’s why she called Father Quilligan, her parish priest.

All these years later, sitting in the family room of her Coral Springs home, Judy weeps at the memory.

“It’s all a blur, and you end up blocking out some things,” says Judy, who still works in a South Florida dental office. “I just remember I freaked out. I’m 25, and I’ve just lost my husband, the love of my life. I’ve got a son, 8 weeks old; a mortgage with an incredible 16.5 percent interest rate; a car payment and no idea what I was supposed to do.

“I didn’t know how I was going to function.”

Scott didn’t either. Curt was his indestructible big brother, his idol and best friend. Curt played baseball at South Plantation, then Broward Community College, then Florida Atlantic University. He tried out twice for the Kansas City Royals, never making it, but never losing his love for baseball. Curt also loved cars, had a passion for rebuilding old Corvettes and old Mustangs.

In fact, that’s how Curt first caught Judy’s eye. After a move from Cocoa Beach, Curt was the new kid at South Plantation his senior year, the new kid who arrived for school in a red ’67 Mustang coupe.

“He had long blond hair, and these blue, blue eyes, like Scott’s eyes and everyone else in their family,” Judy said.

After Curt and Judy married, Scott’s father was transferred in his job with the Ford Motor Co.’s credit department. Scott moved with his parents to Farmington Hills, Mich., and enrolled at the University of Michigan.

After Curt’s death, Scott struggled, and he missed the friends he made in South Florida, where Jimmy, Judy, Marty and Curt did so much together. They took trips to the Florida Keys together to fish and water ski. They played golf together. They were nearly inseparable.

While living in Michigan, Scott used to visit Curt and Judy, staying with them during summer and holidays. After Curt’s death, he would check on Judy, with phone calls and more summer and holiday visits. Back in Plantation, Jimmy took special care of his sister, making sure Judy would come out dancing, or to the movies, or golfing with their friends. Scott joined when he was home.

Judy says family pulled her from the abyss, saved her and Nicholas.

After Scott graduated from Michigan, he couldn’t take it anymore. In the summer of ’84, he bolted back to South Florida, where Judy had a spare room for him to stay. Scott, who graduated in industrial engineering, worked odd jobs before landing his first big job at Power Products in Pompano Beach. He helped take care of Nicholas, helped Judy with chores, joined in when Jimmy organized nights out for the gang.

Through all of this, sometime early in ’85, Scott and Judy said their friendship turned almost naturally into a romance.

“It took awhile, but doing so many things together with family and friends, it was just kind of a natural flow to something more,” Judy said. “It was like it was meant to be.”

Scott didn’t have to tell Mimi what was happening. She knew, and she thanked God for it. Mimi could see how good they were for each other, how good it was for Nicholas.

“Our good friends were happy for us, our parents were all happy for us, but I did worry what other people would think,” Scott said.

Scott and Judy married quietly in a small gathering at the Broward County Courthouse on Oct. 31, 1985.

“Judy had her big wedding,” Scott said.

And the couple had a new life, a healing union that would renew them both.

“Scott gave me that happiness again,” Judy said. “People don’t really know him, how much he’s sacrificed for our family, really putting us first.”

Scott and Judy learned they could overcome almost anything together. In fact, Judy’s overcome a breast cancer diagnosis, reaching the magical five-year survival window last September.

Still, back in their beginning, the greatest challenge of the new family dynamic was figuring out when and how to tell Nicholas about his father’s death.

Both Scott and Judy worried that Nicholas might hear it from somebody else, that it might scar him hearing that way. So when Nicholas was in second grade, they sat him on the family-room couch and showed him a family photo that included both Scott and Curt.

Judy pointed to Scott first.

“That’s your daddy,” Judy said.

Then she pointed to Curt.

“And that’s your father, that’s Curt,” Judy told him. “He was Scott’s brother.”

And Nicholas figured it out, best he could at the time.

“We could see some sadness in him, but he took it very well,” Scott said.

Within the Thompson family, among close friends, this doesn’t feel like a secret. It never has. That’s what the Thompsons would like people to understand.

Curt’s memory remains a powerful presence in their lives, visiting not like a ghost rattling the doors and windows of their souls, but like a gentle breeze whose return is always welcome. Curtis, the youngest of the siblings, is named after Curt.

“This isn’t something we’ve swept under the rug in our family,” Judy said. “We talk about Curt. He was a part of our lives. He’s gone, but he’s still a part of our lives today.”

When Lexi was 10, and Curtis 12, Judy and Scott kept their two youngest after a Sunday mass at St. Gregory’s near their home. In a pew, in an empty church, they shared the family history with them for the first time.

“It was pretty emotional, a lot to take in,” Lexi said. “But our family is really close. My brothers, they’re like my best friends. Our dad, my mother, they’re always there for us, and we like all being together.”

The family has never been ashamed of the story, never intentionally hid it from outsiders, but it was never something they openly shared. It has always been private, family business. Nicholas didn’t begin telling his friends until a few years ago.

“When you’re younger, kids can be brutal,” Nicholas said.

He didn’t want them having ammunition.

Scott and Judy passed along to Nicholas a number of Curt’s possessions. Nicholas keeps his father’s coin collection in a safe in his home. He has his father’s wallet, which contains Curt’s driver’s license, his GMAC employee card, a wedding photo, and Nick’s baby photo. Nicholas also has his father’s South Plantation senior class ring and his saxophone, which Curt never mastered.

“I’ve asked questions about him over the years, but I’ve mostly learned about him just listening to my parents and my godfather talk about him,” Nicholas said.

Marty Mattone was Curt’s best friend. He was the best man in Curt and Judy’s wedding. He is also Nicholas’ godfather. He made sure to pass his best memories to Nicholas.

“Curt and I were like brothers,” says Mattone, who makes his home in Jacksonville now. “After Curt passed, I couldn’t have hoped for anyone else to raise Nicholas than Scott. Those children couldn’t have a better father or mother. The proof is in the pudding, in who they are as a family today.”

Sometimes, Judy says, she almost gasps when Nicholas turns a certain way.

“He’s beginning to look so much like Curt,” Judy says. “They’re alike in so many ways. They’re both know-it-alls. They’re both really precise, really organized, really determined to finish something they’ve started.”

While Nicholas honors his biological father’s memory, he says Scott is his father in every way.

“That’s the way it has always been, and that’s the way it will always be,” Nicholas said.

The bond is so strong Scott will serve as Nicholas’ best man when Nicholas gets married later this year.

“I think that really shows you how close we are,” Nicholas said.

So does the fact that when Nicholas purchased a house a couple years ago, he bought the empty house 500 yards from his parents’ home. Scott and Judy live on the 12th hole at Eagle Trace Golf Club. Nicholas lives on the 16th hole.

“I’m sure when Curt looks down, he’s happy with what’s happened,” Scott said.

Really, that might be all anyone needs to know about this remarkable new public turn in the Thompson family story.

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