Jim Thompson and his sister, Hazel Joyce of Sutter Creek, hold up a picture of their mother, Jackson resident Sadie Thompson at a school in the village of Proa Chum, Cambodia. The school is dedicated to her by her son (top).
The new school in Cambodia is a tribute to Jim Thompson’s mother, Sadie Thompson (below).
Photo by: Courtesy to the Ledger Dispatch
By Scott Thomas Anderson
On Dec. 8, 2007, a group of Cambodian children gathered in the early morning light at the center of their village and happily waved flags. The new school that was being opened for them was more than just a necessity, it was a symbol – a glimpse at a future not dominated by staggering poverty and hardship, but rather hope through education. The opening was made possible by the generosity of an American man named Jim Thompson, and it was done as a tribute to the woman who’d taught him everything he knew about caring and compassion. Before moving to Amador County in 2000, Sadie Thompson had traveled the world. Her husband, the late Jim Thompson Sr., was in the U.S. Navy and then worked in international business. The taste for foreign living was never lost on her son Jim, who’s spent most of his adult life living in Asia. Today, Jim’s international transportation and storage business, Crown Worldwide, is headquartered in Hong Kong and has offices in more than 50 countries.Sadie’s life, on the other hand, has been quieter lately. She lives in Rollingwood Estates in Jackson and spends a great deal of her time with her daughter, Hazel Joyce of Sutter Creek. Joyce said that, despite some health problems, the feisty 90-year-old still makes a strong impression on those who meet her. “My mom’s a unique person,” Joyce explained. “She’s made a lot of friends since moving up here. She’s very upbeat and positive. It’s hard to explain, but people just tend to remember her.”Jim has always agreed, and that message was about to be shared with a village full of children who had never met anyone in the Thompson family. When he recently opened a new office for his company in the Cambodian city of Phnom Penh, his wife, Sally, toured the dire situation in the out-lying countryside. It was eventually brought to the Thompsons’ attention that the village of Proa Chum needed a real school for its children, and that the area where what few classes were taught lacked an actual bathroom – which kept many young girls from showing up. The Thompsons wanted to help create a safe and secure place where the kids from Proa Chum could better their chances for the future through education. Jim contacted the Cambodian government and agreed to provide the funds for the school. His only condition was that it be named in his mother’s honor.With the aid of a professor from the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Hun Sen Proa Chum Primary School was built in four months. On the day it opened, Joyce, along with a representative from Cambodia’s prime minister and 1,500 other people were on hand. “The experience was so emotional, so overwhelming, that it’s hard to put into words,” recalled Joyce. “The idea that my brother would do this to honor my mother was amazing. And for me to share that day just provided a memory that I’ll hold forever.” After a large picture of Sadie was shown to those gathered, Jim addressed the children. According to Johnson, they hung on his every word. “The only way for the children to escape the devastating poverty is to get an education; and that’s what he stressed to them,” she said. “For the girls who don’t, they’re often forced into prostitution. In Cambodia, the problem with AIDS and children being sold into prostitution has been well-documented by the media. It’s horrific, and that’s why Jim emphasized to the kids of Proa Chum to stay in school and use education as their way out.” The goal of helping children is something Joyce is very familiar with herself. She’s currently on the board of Amador’s Operation Care, which helps women and children who are the victims of abuse. She said both she and her brother’s commitment to making a positive difference can be directly attributed to the role Sadie played in their lives. “There’s certainly a connection between what Jim did in Cambodia and her,” she said. “Anything about being good and trying to care for people, we learned from our mother.”