Billy Thompson of White Post, VA passed away on March, 16, 2011 at the age of 72. Even if you didn’t know Billy, you were a guest at his home during the Back Roads Century. That’s because Billy was the owner and founder of White Post Restorations, the rest stop where we serve our tomato sandwiches.
White Post Restorations started as a farm machinery repair shop in the 1940’s. The business moved into auto repair and then evolved into their current line of work, restoring fine automobiles. Cars restored at White Post often win awards at car shows. White Post Restorations does what’s called a "complete rebuild” - cars are disassembled into thousands of individual pieces which are then meticulously repaired, polished and painted, down to the last nuts and bolts.
Billy was known as one the foremost authorities on antique automobile restoration, developing a reputation that spanned the globe. His customers have included Hollywood celebrities and dignitaries from overseas. Just peek inside the windows of one of the 60 service bays, and you’ll see that the range of cars they restore is astonishing – everything from a 1930’s Ford pickup truck, to a 50’s classic, or a ’63 T-Bird. No matter what era the car is from, every one receives the same personal attention to detail.
Yet businesses are all about people, not cars. And White Post was all about Billy Thompson. Before I had even met Billy, people told me "he’s a real character”. And the first time I met him, I knew exactly what they we’re talking about. All it took was one look at that bold mustache and wide grin. Billy had a larger-than-life personality and commanded attention when he walked into a room. He had a way about him which let you know that he was in charge.
Billy was a pillar of the community – literally. That’s because the actual "White Post” pillar, which you see in the middle of the intersection of White Post and Berrys Ferry Roads, was maintained by Billy. Because the white post is located in the middle of the road, it’s been the victim of inattentive drivers on numerous occasions. As soon as it was knocked down, Billy would be right out there putting it back together again. He took great pride in maintaining the post in pristine condition.
Billy petitioned the Virginia Landmark Commission to register the trademark post. As a direct result of his efforts the village received designation as a Historically Significant Landmark - quite an accomplishment.
Billy was a tireless supporter of the community, always looking for ways to promote tourism in Clarke County, VA. He served as Tourism Chairman, and was a member of both the Clarke County Historical Association and the county’s Industrial Development Authority. However, he was most notably known as the "unofficial mayor” of White Post, because Billy didn’t need to be elected to office. When Billy spoke, people listened.
At any time of day Billy would welcome visitors to his shop. Whether it was giving tours to a group of tourists passing through, or hosting a community event, he was always generous with his time and energy. He even had hot air balloons launch from his property. One of the reasons that the Back Roads Century returns to Clarke County each year is because of the incredible hospitality of its residents, and Billy Thompson exemplified that spirit.
While planning the 2010 Back Roads Century, I was at White Post on numerous occasions. Every time I stopped by to check cue sheets or measure the layout for our serving tables, Billy would come outside and chat. Being a car buff and growing up in the era of "Muscle Cars”, it was a real thrill to speak with him. He would tell me about the projects in his shop and we would just "talk cars” in general - quite an experience. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was speaking with a living legend. He knew everything about cars.
Not long ago I was listening to car repair expert and master mechanic, Pat Goss, on the radio. A caller asked Pat about restoring an old Chrysler. He was having a hard time finding parts for his car and needed help. Pat immediately chimed in "Call Billy Thompson at White Post Restorations. He is the foremost expert in the nation”. And I thought, "wow what an endorsement”, and at the same time I realized what an honor it was to know Billy personally.
During the Back Roads Century last year, I arrived at White Post around lunch time to see how things were going. And right there was Billy, among the cyclists, chatting with all the riders. That’s what he liked to do. He enjoyed sharing his home, having company and promoting Clarke County. I had my camera with me and snapped a few pictures, including the picture of Billy that you see here. I think that it perfectly captures his spirit and personality – that big smile, big mustache, and he’s pointing his finger for emphasis.
I was really looking forward to seeing Billy again this summer. I had planned on giving him this photograph and teasing him about how Pat Goss was promoting his business on the radio. Unfortunately he won’t be there and White Post will never be the same. He was a great person and will be sorely missed by the thousands of lives that he touched. Billy Thompson leaves behind an incredible legacy and he definitely was a "real character”.
-- Mark Alpert