He was born “Clarence Arnold Thompson,” but for twenty-two years Poly High School students knew him as “Mr. T.”
When he became principal at Poly in 1943 at age forty-seven Mr. T was a fatherly figure in the halls.
By the time he retired in 1965 at age sixty-nine he had become a grandfatherly figure in the halls. And despite Mr. T’s wide, disarming grin, he took no sass from his “one percenters”—those few troublemakers that every student body has. (Photo from the 1965 Poly Parrot yearbook.)
Mr. T was born in rural Tarrant County near Mansfield in 1896 to Herman and Anna Thompson. Herman was a farmer.
After the war Mr. T earned his bachelor’s degree from Hardin-Simmons University and taught in Midlothian, Eliasville (Young County), and Olney. In 1925 he joined Fort Worth public schools.
By 1926 Mr. T was at North Fort Worth High School, teaching history. He was thirty years old. This page is from the 1926 Lasso yearbook.
In 1926 Mr. T also was the boys track coach.
By 1929 Mr. T was teaching science at North Side High. This page is from the 1929 Lasso. Notice that Mr. T’s hairline was already receding. I’m relieved to find that we Poly students didn’t cause Mr. T to lose his hair. Clearly the blame lies with those North Side one percenters.
Fast-forward to 1933. That year was a big one for Mr. T. He received his master’s degree from the University of Texas with a thesis entitled “Some Factors Contributing to the Growth of Fort Worth,” and his first son, Tommy, was born.
Mr. T and Mrs. T (wife Ruth) raised two men of letters. The older son, Tommy Thompson, wrote Blood and Money, Serpentine, and Celebrity. Tommy died in 1982. Younger son Larry is a lawyer and author of such legal thrillers as The Trial.
In 1940 Mr. T was still a teacher.
But fast-forward to 1943. Mr. T became principal of Poly High. These images from the 1946 Parrot show a school building that was only eight years old.
Fast-forward to 1955. These images are from the 1955 Parrot.
Say it ain’t so, Mr. T! The Thompsons lived at 1841 Hillcrest on the West Side—smack dab in Arlington Heights High School territory.
This Fort Worth Press clip reports on reaction to a “brawl” between Poly students and Paschal students after a basketball game. In a scene that seems right out of “Happy Days,” Mr. T and Paschal principal Oscar Dean Wyatt planned to discuss the problem while fishing together. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall (beats being a worm on the hook) at that summit meeting. The clip is undated, but Paschal student Lloyd Lane, mentioned in the article, played baseball at Paschal in 1955 and 1956, so this incident took place in the mid-’50s.
In fact, in 1957 Mr. T and O. D. Wyatt met again, this time with athletic director Herman Clark (as in the FWISD stadium on Wichita Boulevard), after students from the two schools engaged in “an egg-tossing incident” during a basketball game in which forty-three fouls were called, followed by “a gang fight outside the gym.” Clark spoke of “last year’s rhubarb.”
Photos of principal Wyatt are from the 1954 Paschal Panther yearbook.
And in 1958 Mr. T lent his support to a group of Poly students who organized to control juvenile delinquency two weeks after a “gang fight” following a Poly-Paschal football game.
But Mr. T witnessed plenty of good sportsmanship, too. His “Remember who you are and where you’re from” was invoked in 1964 when Poly High won the Fort Worth Jaycees’ Sportsmanship Award for the second year in a row.
The year 1965 was the first year at Poly High for my class of 1967 and the last year at Poly High for Mr. T. After forty-six years as an educator, he retired.
Star-Telegram entertainment columnist Elston Brooks reported that Mr. and Mrs. T had started Mr. T’s retirement by sailing to Jamaica to meet son Tommy.
This monument erected by Poly Alumni Association on the lawn of the school includes Mr. T’s words of advice. (Photo courtesy of Don Peacock.)
Clarence Arnold Thompson died on December 8, 1982 just five weeks after son Tommy died. Mrs. T died the next year.
But Mr. T attended the 2012 Poly High centennial reunion if only in spirit.
Mr. T and Mrs. T are buried in Greenwood Cemetery.
Postscript: Mr. T’s son Larry spoke at Poly High’s centennial celebration in 2012:
Below are two video clips.
“Remember Who You Are . . .”: