By BRANTLEY STRICKLAND
As a retired Walterboro City Councilman, it wasn’t uncommon for Johnny Thompson to be a regular attendee of the city’s annual Christmas party.
But when Thompson headed to Main Street Grille Thursday night for the 2012 version of the event, he had no idea he was going as the guest of honor.
Thursday during the party, Thompson was named Walterboro’s 2012 Citizen of the Year, an honor that came as quite the shock to its recipient.
“They usually invite my wife (Thelma) and I each year, but I had no idea that they were going to give it to me,” Thompson said. “I was very pleasantly surprised. I’m still on Cloud 9.
“I’ve been calling all my children all over the place. I’ve been telling everyone about it.”
Thompson was presented a commemorative plaque and a red rocker, Walterboro’s symbol of hospitality, by Mayor Bill Young, who said the city’s 2012 Citizen of the Year was a worthy recipient.
“Johnnie has worked tirelessly to improve our community,” Young said. “Walterboro is a better place because of his contributions.”
Thompson, a Walterboro native, served as a City Councilman for 28 years, from 1979 to 2007. During that span, he also served as a member of the Walterboro-Colleton Airport Commission. From 1991 to 1995 he served as mayor pro-tem. He is a member of the Hiram E. Mann Chapter TAI, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Tuskegee Airmen Monument located at the Lowcountry Regional Airport.
Thompson, who holds an A.D. in public services and criminal justice from Palmer College, is a retired Army Armored Tank Platoon Sergeant. A Korean War veteran, he received the Korean Presidential Citation, a Bronze Star, and the U.S. Army Commendation for his service.
In 2002, he was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor a South Carolinian can receive. Thompson said Thursday’s experience ranked closely with his honor of 10 years ago.
“I got the Order of the Palmetto in 2002, and being from Walterboro, to be the Citizen of Year, it’s very similar for me,” Thompson said.
And there are grand plans for his new piece of furniture. The red rocker which will occupy a place of honor in the sitting area of Thompson’s garage.
“I walk a mile every morning, so told everyone I would make it a habit that when I come back, I’ll take break in my red rocking chair,” he said. “I put it in my garage, where we sit. It will be right out front.”
The Walterboro Citizen of the Year award was established in 2011 to “honor those who contribute most to the community and who help to make the City a great place to live, work and play.”
Thompson is the first recipient of the award, which is selected via an open submissions process.
Nominations are reviewed by a committee.