Festival featured birthdays on parade

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Cathleen Thompson and Western Welcome Week are both proud to be “Still Alive at 85,” and Thompson got the surprise of her life to celebrate.

Her birthday fell smack in the middle of Western Welcome Week this year, on Aug. 13, and that gave some WWW folks an idea.

Thompson’s daughter, Kathy Thompson, is a former WWW board member and grew up with Cindy Hathaway, executive director. The two devised a grand scheme to surprise the elder Thompson with a ride in the Grand Parade on Aug. 17.

“It wasn’t even on my bucket list, because I never even thought about it,” said Cathleen Thompson.

Hathaway picked up mom and daughter in a golf cart at Woodlawn Shopping Center that morning, purportedly to give them a lift down to Main Street. But she said she had to make a detour to the beginning of the parade route, where Cathleen Thompson was shocked to see tons of family and friends gathered around a convertible with her name on it, on loan from Mike Ward Infiniti.

“And of course I had to cry,” said Thompson. “Everybody hugged me and said they loved me. I’ve really got good friends.”

Coincidentally, Thompson was also celebrating 50 years in Littleton. The family moved here from North Carolina in 1963, hoping the climate would ease her ailing husband’s health. Sadly, he died five months later, leaving her a young single mom with two kids.

“She worked three or four jobs at a time to raise us,” said Kathy Thompson. “There was no public dole then, and she wouldn’t have taken it anyway, because she’s a really hard worker.”

Her first job in town was at a barbecue restaurant called Georgia Boys, at Broadway and Panama Drive, where McDonald’s is now. Then she added Columbine Country Club to the list, where she served meals to famous golfers like Arnold Palmer and even once to President Gerald Ford after he finished a round. She stayed there for 15 years before running her own restaurant, Mr. J’s on Kipling Parkway.

She sold her business five years later, then went on to work 15 more years at the Mountain Bell training center on Wadsworth Boulevard. After that she “semi-retired” to a part-time job at Canteen Corp.

“I made coffee, sandwiches, whatever needed to be done, I could do it,” she said.

Finally, at 71, she retired.

“There are very, very, very few people who have her work ethic,” said Kathy Thompson. “She did hard, physical work until she was 71. She paid off that house, and she did it by herself. Truly by herself. She’s my she-ro.”

She never really stopped wanting to serve people, though. She’s known for her chocolate cakes, which turn up all over town whenever she thinks somebody might like one.

“She helps people,” said Kathy Thompson. “She’ll hear about somebody having a hard time and just show up to cook or shop without them even asking. She just knows what to do. She’s thoughtful like that.”

Cathleen Thompson she doesn’t really know any other way to be.

“I’ve worked hard my whole life,” she said. “I’m proud I got my two kids raised with all the problems through my life. I raised them and got them educated. I’m proud I got it done.”