John was born in Nelson, the first child of Fred and Muriel Thomson, and elder brother of Rob, Elspeth and Leonie. John was raised in a Christian home and, along with his family, attended Nelson Baptist Church.
He came from a musical family. His parents initially dreamed he would excel as a pianist. However after four years of his fingers being slapped with a ruler, and Chopsticks being his major piano accomplishment, Muriel decided that resources were better spent elsewhere.He began speech lessons and gained his letters in this discipline, a skill which was later used from the pulpit. He was able to project his voice effectively well before microphones were introduced.
In his teen years, following a mountaineering accident, he completely surrendered his life to God. His testimony told of his cycle ride home from church the Sunday after the mishap. John biked back to the church to find the minister, Fred Carter, still there and Fred led John towards a life dedicated to serving the Lord.
At Nelson College, John was a high achiever academically but his participation in team sports was less noteworthy. He was more suited to harriers and John’s time spent long distance running laid the foundations for his passion of tramping and mountaineering.
After leaving Nelson College, John worked at the Nelson branch of the National Bank of New Zealand.
At the age of 21, John began his Baptist theological training in Auckland. He began courting Doreen Sutton, a young nurse from Richmond. Their engagement spanned the four years of his study, students not being allowed to marry while in training in those days.
They were married in December 1959 and began their first pastorate at Hawera Baptist. It was a tough one with a local town lawyer, who also chaired the Baptist College Board, being a member of the congregation. He called John to his office every Monday morning (John’s day off) to critique the sermon. After thanking the gentleman for this thorough grilling, John would return home to Doreen and they would work off their stress in the large manse garden. Their daughters Pauline and Joyanne were born during their time in Hawera.
The family moved to Blenheim, where their third daughter, Christine, was born. John and Doreen had a happy eight years with the newly established Blenheim congregation and made many life-long friendships.
John and Doreen then moved south to Gore. While there, John was asked to write the biography of Andrew Johnston, a man who became a special friend and wise confidant. John felt it a particular privilege to record the life story of this renowned “blind evangelist.” Andrew’s powerful preaching had impacted many lives between the 1930s and 1950s. The biography was published in celebration of his 80th birthday.
In Gore, John made a regular contribution to the local newspaper. His weekly column on native bird life was printed under the pseudonym of Miromiro, chosen for the bird’s English name, Tomtit – the closest association to Thomson in the bird dictionary. John subsequently received a fellowship award from the Royal Geographical Society for his writing and contributions to the guardianship of New Zealand wildlife.
John’s ministry continued in the south with six years at Central Baptist church in Invercargill following the eight years at Gore. He loved his involvement with community service groups as well as parishioners. After many years as a Rotarian, John was given the task of overseeing the Younger Rotarac group. As a result, he officiated at many weddings when the young farmers found wives. He also enjoyed his long involvement with various Girls’ Brigade companies, becoming chaplain to the organisation in Southland.
Having become a bit of an insomniac in Southland, John made history books his nocturnal companions. Taking advantage of those long nights, Doreen’s ability to sleep with the light on, and his love of historical research, John completed his Masters degree in the wee small hours.
In 1984 John and Doreen returned to Nelson. They delighted in spending their last period of formal ministry at Stoke, back in the district of their childhood homes.
John’s service of thanksgiving was held at Richmond Baptist Church on April 17, attended by a large number of family and friends. One of John’s favourite hymns, “All the way my Saviour leads me,” was sung enthusiastically at the service – an appropriate summary of John’s view of life, his love of Christ and his commitment to sharing that love with others.
Doreen and their daughters, Pauline, Joyanne and Christine, appreciated the outpouring of love and support from so many in recent months. In part this is a reflection of the way in which John, with the support of Doreen, had similarly helped countless individuals throughout New Zealand and beyond.
– By Murray Austin