A lesson in perseverance, Mary Ann Thompson has overcome great odds the last few years, giving hope to many that no matter how difficult life becomes having a positive outlook can be life-changing and rewarding.
Thompson knows firsthand that sometimes the smallest encounters, if we take time to notice, will bring pleasant surprises, assuring one there is a divine plan in all the chaos.
Five years ago Thompson, 73, of Sedalia, had a stroke that left her left side paralyzed. As she worked toward healing, she lost her husband Larry Wayne Paul Thompson to cancer. Having been dealt the hand of illness and loss, Thompson could have given up and slipped into despair. She didn’t.
After her husband’s death, Thompson, who had previously worked for more than two decades as a cook at the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office, decided to moved from the couple’s rural home into Sedalia.
“I lived 17 miles out of town and I can’t drive,” she said. “When he died I had to figure out how to get in and out of town.”
With the help of her best friend Betty Jean “B.J.” Ream and her son William Thompson, of Texas, she found a home in Sedalia, remodeled it and began to plant flowers.
Thompson has regained most of her ability on the left side, but she tires easily. She still has moments when the correct words elude her and she has to stop and think of how to phrase a sentence.
Through it all, in the last two years, she has maintained her yard using a push mower, planted flowers, painted her own interior walls and even erected a flag pole in the front yard.
Thompson now has a new project — learning to ride a bike.
A chance encounter brought her in contact with a variety of three-wheeled bicycles located on East Fifth Street. A friend drove her over to the location and little did Thompson know that the man who created the bicycles had been a family friend years ago.
“I told her to stop, so she stopped and I got out there and we talked (and) I knew your voice,” she said looking at Tom McCown of Cartillac Bikes.
“We had been friends for years,” McCown said. “She had this stroke and she couldn’t remember. But she recognized my voice.”
McCown said when his wife Ann called him and told him Thompson wanted to look at the bicycles, he thought her name sounded familiar.
“I was good friends with her husband, Larry,” McCown said. “I drank coffee in her house, and she worked at Millie’s Restaurant, and then she worked at the sheriff’s department for 22 years.”
Thompson said she began working at the sheriff’s office under Sheriff Gary Starke’s administration. She continued there until after Sheriff Kevin Bond took office. Besides working as a waitress at Millie’s Restaurant, she also worked at Precinct 2, a cafe owned by Jim Lawson, also a Pettis County sheriff.
Thompson decided she wanted a bicycle because her wheelchair-scooter wouldn’t ride up and over the sidewalk curbs.
“So that’s why I wanted to try the bike … so I could go where ever I wanted to go,” she said.
Her particular bicycle has a full-sized shopping cart on the front supported by two wheels and one wheel in the back. The cart makes it easy for her to go grocery shopping.
Thompson said she would never have met McCown again or purchased the bicycle if it hadn’t been for a man in her stroke support class at Bothwell Regional Health Center. The man bought a bike from McCown and wanted to use it as therapy. He told Thompson she should look into riding a bicycle. The small encounter, two years prior, planted the seed of further independence.
“It’s God’s way of working,” McCown added. “I believe in God, and let me tell you what, that’s what it’s all about. It’s faith, and it’s His timing. It’s not our timing, it’s His timing.”
Realizing Thompson was a stroke survivor, McCown adjusted the bicycle to accommodate her needs.
“I want her to be able to do this,” he said. “I’m even going to make it stationary for her in the winter time.”
Thompson said her bike riding is going well. So far she traveled two blocks and around the neighborhood.
She added that keeping her mind and body busy has helped her through her illness and loss.
“I love my yard work, I just do a little bit every day,” she said.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.