The Thompson Family
In 1941, B.R. Thompson Sr. moved from Oneida, Tennessee to Knoxville with a new wife, two young sons, no job, and only two dollars in his pocket. Thompson was born in Elgin, a small community in upper East Tennessee known for its lumber production and hard-working people. A widower after the birth of his second son, Thompson worked in Elgin as a lumberman, alongside his father, who operated the sawmill. He worked hard to provide for his young family a two-year-old boy named B. Ray and a newborn son named Jack.
After the family resettled in Knoxville, Thompson’s second wife succumbed to lung cancer in 1953. By 1961, B.R. Sr. had a new career as a coal salesman. He and his sons became the owners and operators of Jewell Smokeless Coke (a coal by-product) and Shamrock Coal companies, with mines, processing plants, and coke ovens in Kentucky (Laurel and Clay Counties), as well as in Virginia (Buchanan County).
Jewell Smokeless and Shamrock Coal became one of the nation’s largest privately owned coal and coke companies. Renamed Elk River Resources, its coal and coke was valued for its high quality by utility companies and steel fabricators around the world.
The success of Elk River enabled B.R. Sr. and his family to support various community organizations and causes, including research into fighting cancer, the disease which killed B.R.’s beloved second wife. Before his death in 1987, B.R. Thompson Sr. laid the framework for a private charity to help the very people and the communities which helped make Elk River successful.
Ten years after Mr. Thompson, Sr. died, the B.R. Thompson Charitable Trust (BRTCT) was first established and later renamed Elgin Foundation, to honor his birthplace. From the beginning, it was led by B.Ray Thompson Jr., his wife Juanne, and family members. With the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Thompson in 2017, Elgin Foundation has been overseen by their daughters: Rebekah Thompson Palmer, Vance Thompson, and Adella Thompson.
Ten legacy counties were the first communities served by Elgin. Bell, Clay, Laurel, and Leslie counties in Southeast Kentucky; Anderson, Blount, Knox, and Scott counties in East Tennessee; and Buchanan and Tazewell counties in Southwest Virginia received the foundation’s initial focus. The work grew, and Elgin expanded its capacity to help children in 20 neighboring counties. Programs which provide dental care, promote academic excellence, assist with Bible discipleship training, and stop child abuse and trafficking have improved the lives of children and had a positive impact on entire communities.
The foundation’s directors, staff, and volunteers remain dedicated to stop the cycle of poverty which has debilitated this area for generations. Over 80,000 children in 200 schools received dental treatments which they could not have otherwise afforded. Reading and comprehension assistance has helped over 90,000 students improve their academic and reading scores, and almost 100 principals and more than 1,000 teachers have benefited from Elgin’s academic coaching programs. Elgin Foundation’s ongoing goal is for 90 percent of children its participating schools to read at or above grade level by third grade. A focus on Bible discipleship has reached over 30,000 children. Child Advocacy efforts have helped more than 160,000 children escape the most horrific instances of abuse, neglect, and sex trafficking.