Don McAlavy : Local Columnist
A friend of mine, Jack Chambliss, and I had the fortunate luck to work with an honest man who would not accept $75 a week pay. This was at the old Clovis Printing Co., at 313 Main, where Chambliss worked in the typewriter shop in the back of the print shop and met this honest man, H. Lee Thompson.
Thompson had read an ad in a Dallas paper while in Galveston, Texas, and saw where someone in Clovis was wanting a typewriter repairman. He got on a bus and still had the Dallas paper in his hand when he came in to see Wallace Oswald, the co-owner of the combination office supply and print shop. He was always called “Mr. Oswald!” He asked Chambliss, 25, to visit with Thompson, 48, to determine if this 48-year-old man had the right kind of experience to take Chambliss’ place while he would be gone for 90 days training with the National Guard at Fort Bliss. This was in the late 1940s.
“Thompson and I,” said Chambliss, “hit it off real good, and saw that he was quite a man of the world as it seemed he had been everywhere. I spent some time with him and told Mr. Oswald he thought Thompson could handle the job.
“So, Mr. Oswald offered Thompson the salary I had — $75 per week for five and a half days, 44 hours,” said Chambliss who had been there four years.
“I will never forget that moment,” said Chambliss. “Mr. Oswald had been paying me probably all he could afford, but was worried about being able to hire an older, more experienced man, for the same salary.
“Thompson acted like he had been hit in the face with a wet mop and got about half mad, turned and stomped about 4 or 5 feet away. Mr. Oswald and I looked at each other, and Mr. Oswald called him back to offer him more money. Thompson turned abruptly and stomped back. Before Mr. Oswald could offer him more, he said, ‘There is no way I will work for $75 a week, but tell you what I will do. I will work for $65 a week for two months and after that if you are convinced I can do the job, than you can raise me to $75.’
“Sure took Mr. Oswald and I by surprise that day and made a good impression on both of us,” said Chambliss.
We began calling Thompson “Tommy,” and he fitted in real good and made a good hand until he died in Clovis on July 12, 1969. He and Chambliss made a good partnership, and he became Chambliss’ best friend.
Thompson was born in Houston on Jan. 1, 1905. He had good luck in Clovis but married a gal who had a 3-year-old boy. Then they had three girls: Treva (named after Jack’s wife), Judy, and Patricia. The marriage didn’t turn out so well as his wife left town one day with a fry cook and left Thompson with all the kids, who he raised as best he could.
“At Thanksgiving and Christmas I always took up a collection and provided them with whatever my wife and I could,” said Chambliss. “We helped take care of the kids, and the kids tried the best they could. Maybe it was habits they picked up from their mother. The mother talked big but actually did nothing,” said Chambliss sorrowfully.
In 1960 we had an election to determine if Clovis was going to rid itself of the “bottle clubs” (private booze clubs that skirted the law). Thompson and I organized the League for Legality, printed a bunch of petitions and circulated them, and finally got enough signatures to call for an election. He was the mastermind behind most of the League for Legality ads we published in the Clovis News Journal. The publisher and editor were behind us.
Thompson kept saying, “Retaining prohibition would actually be a vote for the bootlegger.”
On Oct. 4, 1960, the vote was 3,152 for legal control of liquor and 2,809 against. The League for Legality won. Later the powers that be picked Thompson to head up the Retail Liquor Dealers Association, and he played a key role in policing the liquor outlets and bringing respectability to legalized liquor.
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: