The winter of 1962-1963 – ominously known as “The Big Freeze” in Great Britain – was one of the most brutal ever in the United Kingdom. Blizzards swept across England and Wales with gale force winds that brought down trees and power lines. Twenty-foot snow drifts blocked roads and railways, stranding citizens across the country. It was under these unforgiving circumstances that a young Shell Chemical Company employee named John Thompson met a young South African named Carol Valpy.
The two became acquainted at a London Christmas party and began dating immediately. At the time, John was stationed five hours to the north of London. To expedite and simplify matters, the couple decided to get engaged, and quickly.
“It was such a bad winter in England, and it seemed silly to drive 5 hours just to pursue a date,” laughs John with a cunning smile. So, after only four or five dates, the couple became engaged in May 1963 and were married the following September.
Before their marriage John applied for a job in Brussels but it had already been filled by the time of his interview. The American company asked how he felt about going to New York City instead. Carol agreed to the idea and in October 1963 they boarded the RMS Queen Elizabeth bound for Manhattan. John earned $6,000 per year and Carol earned a similar income, working in radio and television, and slowly the couple built a new life in America.
Fifty-five years later, the Thompsons have woven together a joyful, dynamic, and wildly adventurous marriage that has produced three successful children; a rich legacy of conservation in the Squam Lakes/Holderness region of New Hampshire; and an educational nonprofit based in Masiphumelele, South Africa, devoted to education and reversing the historical legacy of apartheid.
Sitting in their beautiful third-floor Piper Shores apartment, with windows overlooking a grand sweep of the Atlantic Ocean, the Thompsons today exude an air of joy, humility, and no-nonsense activism. It seems clear that together they have forged a life spurred by curiosity and a passion for making a difference. Their work is not done.
Creating opportunity in South Africa
The nonprofit Masicorp, which they founded in 1999, has grown from a small startup based in a township of 50,000, into a vibrant organization of 70 staff who have transformed the town by building five day-care centers, a youth center, a library, 23 houses, and 35 active projects and programs that serve the Masi community. This February, the Thompsons will return to South Africa for a month to celebrate the organization’s 20th year.
The journey to creating Masicorp began soon after Nelson Mandela had been released from prison. “We saw an article in the local paper about a group of African women with the words: ‘We want a cement mixer.’” Carol and John discovered Masiphumelele, and in the course of the next few months met an ambitious woman who had a daycare center consisting of two shacks. They asked her: “What are your dreams?” an she responded that she wanted a proper school with inside plumbing. The Thompsons quickly understood that this tiny South African Township had been given virtually no education and no resources to succeed.
“There was absolutely no history of education of black people in South Africa,” says Carol. “The government did not give it to them.” So, the focus of Masicorp has been to provide a route out of poverty and, ultimately, to create a black middle class. “The work is painstakingly slow, but we are making a difference,” says Carol.
The Thompsons have spent the better part of 20 years raising funds and applying their own resources to the cause. “It has been a roller-coaster ride,” laughs John, “and we are worth less in dollars than we were. But what else is money for?” Most importantly, he says, “we have a lot of success stories, and feel that we have made a difference.”
Conserving Squam Lake in New Hampshire
The Thompsons’ work in South Africa is not their only passion. The couple also has a profound love for the Squam Lakes region of New Hampshire, where they have been deeply involved in conservation, watershed and habitat protection, science education, gardening, and cultivating community.
The couple has been so impactful in fact, that a group of local citizens created an 8-minute video to thank them for their tremendous contributions to the greater Squam Lakes region, which they presented at a party in 2018. At the celebration, the Thompsons were thanked by four nonprofits – the Squam Lakes Association, Squam Lakes Natural Science Center, Squam Lakes Conservation Society, and the NH Music Festival – for the deep impact they’ve made on the community.
“Good things happen when organizations work together,” reads an introduction to the online video, “That’s the spirit that Carol and John Thompson bring to the work they do in the Squam Lakes region.”
The couple arrived in Holderness in the late 1980s and got caught up in the work of trying to protect the area’s natural resources. They worked on water quality issues, shoreline protection, and forging important conservation easements to protect Squam Lake. “Most of the lakes in New England have been damaged already,” says John, “but 34 percent of the Squam Lake watershed is protected.”
Ultimately, the couple became immersed in the community, and they have worked tirelessly to achieve lasting results. “We believe it takes a village to get this done,” noted Carol, and they seem to enjoy working hard to preserve the beauty of Squam Lake.
Choosing Piper Shores
Coming to Piper Shores is the latest turn in the Thompsons’ great adventure. The couple explains that they were happily enjoying life on Squam Lake until a few years ago when yet another cold winter set in and they realized they were living – rather isolated – at the end of a very long and icy driveway.
Thus, the Thompsons began to search for a community of like-minded people who would provide an active and engaged retirement. “We did a lot of homework and spent time talking about different options. We looked at Kendall in Hanover and RiverWoods in Exeter, New Hampshire. Our friends were talking about CCRCs, and we agreed that homecare could be lonely and restrictive,” says Carol.
Then, on a trip to Maine, they dropped in to see Piper Shores because their friends Rachel and Tom Armstrong who were also working to conserve Squam Lake and who were among Piper Shores’ co-founders. The Thompsons felt an affinity with Piper Shores, recognizing that it offered the kind of vibrant lifestyle with a wide range of amenities and benefits that would suit them.
Now – settled into a beautiful, well-appointed two-bedroom apartment facing the Atlantic Ocean – they feel an enormous sense of relief. “Moving to Piper Shores has not only relieved our children of a huge responsibility, but it offers us a wide range of options too,” says John.
They have enjoyed choral music at Woodford’s Congregational Church, the Portland Symphony Orchestra, and Choral Art Society. “We are amazed by the standard of music in Portland and look forward to exploring Maine, the city, and its fine restaurants,” says John.
And finally, because they take such enormous pleasure in life at Piper Shores, the Thompsons suggested to Andrea Killiard in the Piper Shores marketing department that she might like to make a presentation to a gathering of people in the Squam Lakes region to explore a future at Piper Shores.
“We convened 30 people at the Holderness Library. Andrea and Piper Shores CEO Jim Adamowicz made the trek over,” said John. “The result is that quite a few people from Squam have now signed up for Piper Shores.” And, so it seems that where ever they go, the Thompsons look for ways to make a difference.