Sara Thompson: Doctor, Leader, Writer

Dr. Thompson spent 30 years as a family physician, but retirement to the Key Peninsula in 2012 launched a new walk in life, or two, or three.

Richard Miller, KP News

For some, retirement is all about rest and relaxation. Others struggle with their identify after leaving a lifelong career. For Sara Thompson, it’s the freedom to pour herself into her passions.

Thompson was born in Seattle, the oldest of four children, in 1950. Her father worked in the aerospace industry and the family moved around occasionally to follow his work. After a few brief years in Virginia and Alabama, they returned to Seattle where Thompson graduated from Franklin High School in 1968.

Thompson’s younger sister Cappy Thompson, now an accomplished artist, said Sara was a tough act to follow.

“She’s brilliant, always has been,” Cappy said. “And she’s so passionate about everything she does.”

Thompson gravitated to the sciences, but her natural curiosity and an interest in storytelling led her to write for Franklin High’s school newspaper. She never saw journalism as a career though and when she arrived at Oberlin College, decided to pursue a degree in biology on a pre-med program.

After graduating from Oberlin, Thompson wanted a break from school and took a lab technician job. It was stable work, but unfulfilling.

“I used to play with the idea of opening my own little sandwich and soup café,” Thompson said.

She even signed up for an experimental college course on opening a business and took a waitressing job. Her dreams of a cozy café faded soon after.

Around the same time, in the early 1970s, her parents built a house in Lakebay and moved to the Key Peninsula.

“I came to visit them shortly after they’d moved and I remember my mom asking if I had considered going to grad school,” Thompson said. “I told her ‘no,’ but I was thinking about it after that.”

Thompson’s colleagues at her lab job encouraged her to consider medical school. She began volunteering at a local clinic on Capitol Hill and studied for the MCATs.

She attended medical school at the University of Washington and earned her Doctor of Medicine in 1979. Not long after completing a residency program in California, she returned to Washington and began what would be a 30-year career in family medicine with Group Health.

“She went into family medicine because she’s really interested in helping people,” Cappy said. “She reminds me of our dad in that way; he had a lot of energy to do good in the world.”

Thompson met her husband, Richard Gelinas, through a singles ad in 1983 — long before the world of online dating.

“For me it was love at first sight pretty much,” Thompson said. “I think I told my mom he was ‘the one’ a week after our first date.”

He was handsome, smart, and would keep her on her toes. Thompson said he’s always been completely supportive of her volunteer work, which has been a driving force throughout her life.

She was very active in Franklin High’s PTA when her own children were in school and still helps run the Franklin High Alumni Association. Her drive only intensified since retiring in 2012 and relocating to the Key Peninsula.

Thompson’s mother was an active volunteer with The Mustard Seed Project, a nonprofit supporting independent living for seniors on the KP. At a birthday party for Thompson’s mother, TMSP founder Edie Morgan took the opportunity to recruit Thompson to the board of directors.

“From the very beginning she brought so much focus, intelligence and heart to the table,” Morgan said. “It was clear we’d found someone of great value to our work.”

When Thompson eventually became board president, Morgan said, a world of possibilities opened to them, and TMSP’s long-sought goal of creating an affordable assisted living campus is now close to becoming a reality. Morgan said this wouldn’t have been possible without Thompson.

“The assisted living project was more challenging than we ever expected,” Morgan said. “But she dove right in. She was the exact right person for this.”

Eric Blegen joined TMSP two years ago as executive director and has been amazed by Thompson’s diligence.

“She’s curious, organized and thorough about everything she does,” Blegen said. “There’s no challenge too big for her.”

Meanwhile, Thompson had enjoyed reading the KP News over the years when she came to visit her mother. She fantasized about someday writing for a local paper, like she had all those years ago.

In July 2014, she attended a meeting at the Lakebay Marina about the future of McNeil Island following the 2011 closure of the state prison there. Having not seen any reporters present, she thought to write a report and send it to KP News for consideration. It was published in the September 2014 edition and Thompson has been a volunteer contributor ever since.

Now she’s KP News’ most prolific reporter and won 2020 Feature Writer of the Year, one of three top state honors awarded by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.

“(Thompson) clearly had deep, personal conversations with her subjects and delightfully shows the profound meaning behind their personalities and struggles,” wrote one WNPA judge of her work.

In her career as a family doctor, Thompson had years of experience connecting with patients and learning their personal stories to better serve them. KP News Executive Editor Lisa Bryan said Thompson’s unrelenting interest in humanity makes her an effective journalist.

“Spend any amount of time around her and you’ll notice how many sentences start with ‘I wonder why’ or ‘how is it that’ — she’s always in pursuit of the truth of things,” Bryan said. “Sara enjoyed her career as a physician, but as a journalist I know she feels she discovered her most authentic self. She loves writing and doing this work.”

Thompson joined the KP News publishing board three years ago and is now president. The board has no editorial role, but oversees the paper’s business plan. “We’ve had a lot of success in recent years; publishing higher quality material translated into attracting more talent and more community support, and we have broadened our reach,” Bryan said. “Sara’s writing and leadership has had a considerable role in that.”