From bringing the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame online in Cleveland, OH, to kicking campus into high gear as president of Ringling College of Art and Design, Dr. Larry Thompson has made a name for himself as a builder, collaborator and unstoppable force for forward progress—in short, a man who gets things done. SRQ keeps the doctor after class to find out the secret to his success and the winding path he took to his own seaside paradise. 

PORTRAIT BY DANICA JOKIC.

Golf’s the Game   I’m not that good at it and I don’t get out enough, but it’s always been a joy to me for a couple of reasons. One of them is, you can’t think about anything else when you’re playing golf. There’s no way. Otherwise, your game is really bad. So it’s a way of totally emptying your mind of anything involving work, and it’s almost like meditation in that regard. The second one is being outdoors in a beautiful area, and the camaraderie of whoever it is that you’re playing with. But I’ll even play by myself occasionally. It’s always a challenge. And there are times when you think you got it and then you don’t. It is a total type A personality game, because it can be so frustrating, but all of a sudden you hit a couple of great shots and you go, I’m getting’ it. And you keep thinking you can
perfect it, but you can’t.

Paper Passports  I read two types of books. I read nonfiction and then, when I’m totally relaxing, I’ll read fiction. And fiction is much more mystery, spy novels kind of thing. I’ve read almost all the Vince Flynn books and [Robert Ludlum’s] Bourne. I used to read only nonfiction and then, I was like, I’m just doing too much of that. But I’ll do a lot of reading of different nonfiction books. I’m a bookaphile. I love books. I don’t even read on a Kindle. I love books. One of the favorite things to do with my kids when they were young was going to the bookstore. I read to them every night when they were really young. And they learned, my daughter especially, to love books. 

The Fine Print   I’m a big newspaper person, okay? I used to read two or three of them. But I don’t have time for it anymore. But I read not only the Herald Tribune, I read USA Today and I read the New York Times and stuff like that. Unfortunately,
I don’t have enough time to absorb all that.

Mover and Shaker  So I don’t know where it came from, other than when I was a very young kid, like six, seven, eight years old, I did tap dancing. But I feel the music, I just feel it. I don’t do really well with choreography, so if it’s like one of those line dances or one of those kinds of things, that’s not me. I’m very free style. It’s just being able to feel the music, anticipate the beat. It’s just instinctive.

Rolling Stones  I’m a big Rolling Stones fan. Huge Rolling Stones fan. I’m someone that’s more into the classic rock and roll, you know, stuff, Motown. I love Motown. It’s all that stuff in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. You know, the Beatles and so on and so forth. Hip hop doesn’t appeal to me—I respect what they do, it’s just not my thing. And that’s what the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is about. It was primarily about the history of the music and how it evolved and started and then how it impacted society. 

Rocket Fuel  I used to drink a lot of coffee, a lot of coffee. Two pots a day. I think that sort of came from the law firm. And then I went to Miraval, which is a resort spa place in Tucson, Arizona. And it’s a very Zen-like place. Meditative. Healthy. It’s a remarkable oasis. I went there maybe six years ago as a way to just get away from all of this. I went by myself. I was there five days or so and I just made this decision, I was going to give up coffee and give up Diet Coke, I did drink a lot of Diet Coke. And I haven’t come back. I drink tea now. I know it has caffeine in it, but I don’t drink as much caffeine as I used to.

Maybe a Mathematician   When I went to college I was a mathematician, believe it or not. I was really good at it and so I just kept taking the courses. I never really loved it, but I was good at it. I ended up majoring in it, but when it became close to graduation I was like, “What am I going to do?” Fortunately, I had a couple of summer jobs, one of which was at General Motors in the engineering department. I was like, “I don’t like this. This was not my cup of tea.” The next summer I had another job, because I thought about becoming an actuary.

Almost an Actuary  I took a couple of actuarial exams. I worked at this life insurance company and I went, “Oh my God, I’m gonna be worked to death.” So then I was struggling with what am I going to do. I was also an RA there and was close to the person who was residence life or whatever at the college. He found this graduate program at Cal State, LA that was for counseling and educational administration. So I applied and, probably because I was way out of the box candidate, I got admitted. I went to California and got my Master’s degree. Then I ended up going back to Ohio and worked in a small college as director of Financial Aid.

Conceivably a Counselor  I got into Ohio State University and I would say I barely got accepted, but I was accepted. Then I did really well there. Things clicked. It was the logic of the math with working with people. I have no idea how I did this, I commuted from Wilmington, Ohio to Columbus, which was an hour and half commute each way, going to law school and I worked half-time at the college as director of Financial Aid. I graduated second in my class. When I graduated, I got offers from a lot of different law firms, and one was in Columbus. I ended up going to this firm and one of their clients was Ohio State, so that’s why I started working especially on issues involving educational law.

Probably Not  The practice of law now is totally different now from when I was there. It has become ruthless, it’s become cutthroat. It’s a terrible, I mean, I talk to so many lawyers who want to get out and want to know how I got out. When I was there, there was a real civility. You’re advocates and you’re arguing but then you go and have a drink. But now, it’s very ... I don’t miss it at all. I’d really much rather be helping create something than just advise.

Theodore “Ted” Thompson   This is where this whole passion for education came from. My parents were really strong on education and interestingly he did not end up graduating college. He went for three years of college, but the Depression hit and never was able to finish. He was a strong supporter of education, more than anything, and he even taught at a community college in Dayton. That’s where I got this whole value system of the importance of education and higher education and why we can change
lives and so forth. 

Jacob Davi  I had a mentor at the law firm, Vorys, Sater, Seymour & Pease, who was absolutely one of the most amazing people I ever met. He really caused me to think through issues, think of the actual consequences, thinking through what’s the right thing to do, thinking through all of this. He was very supportive of my going and taking a leave [to work on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame]. He wanted me to come back to the firm, but even though that didn’t happen we remained in contact until he passed away. 

Sweet Tooth  I’m not a foodie, but I love food. My problem is I love food. It’s always a battle. My weakness is sweets—all kinds of sweets. They have candy down the hall and when the mid-afternoon thing comes in, they see me down there too often. Then I’m known as the cookie monster.

Beach Bum  I love Siesta Key Beach. I love it. I never will forget when we first moved down here, and my daughter who was about 10 at the time when we first went to Siesta Key Beach and walked on it. She said, “Look, it’s Sarasota snow. Wow!” Ever since, I remember that. That’s the way it feels, I mean that’s the way it really comes to me, because it’s so white and it’s cool, it’s not hot. I thought, it’s a great description. We don’t get there enough; we used to go quite a bit. But it’s like everything else—you take it for granted. Every once in a while I have to slap myself and go, “You gotta realize you’re in paradise, okay? Hello, go enjoy paradise.”

Thai Totem  The one object I have that really does resonate with me, someone gave me. I look at this every day. This is the goddess of creativity, Saraswati. She’s the goddess of intelligence and of the arts, nature and music and also the goddess of food and wine, but known as the goddess of creativity. A friend of mine who was in Thailand brought it back for me. I just fell in love with it. I love the fact that it’s Sara like Sarasota.

Patrician Thompson  I got the job at Rock and Roll and I almost didn’t take it. I said, “I’m not certain I’m creative enough to do this. Because they require somebody who’s a musician, an artist or whatever and I’m not that.” She just looked at me and said, “You’re one of the most creative people I know.” She said, “You don’t need to be an artist to be creative.” That was a huge sea change for me. I’ve embraced my creativity and tried to keep it going, but it’s in a different kind of form than what our students here do. That’s why I love what they do, because I see what they can create, which is sort of envisioned in their minds. I do that with building campus, programs, whatever.

Front Row Seat  One day I got a call from a headhunter saying, “I have the most difficult job to find—it’s for someone to put together the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” He’d analyzed the position, and came up with skillsets that are very similar to those of leadership in higher ed. I gave him some names and he said, “Well, what about you?” My only response was “Good golly, Miss Molly!” Next thing you know I’m interviewing. I love rock and roll, especially the history—I grew up with it. But I had no clue what I was getting myself into. It sounded glamorous, and it was five or six years of my life that took 25 off of it.

 

About the Portrait Artist: 

Danica collaborated with the magazine’s team to conceptualize and produce this original, commissioned portrait of Dr. Larry R. Thompson commemorating
his 20th Anniversary as President of Ringling College of Art and Design.

Danica Jokic is an illustrator and designer living and working in Sarasota, FL. She was born and raised in Serbia, in a small town on the banks of the Danube. Danica always showed interest in art and traveling, and spent hours dreaming and drawing what her life would look like when she grew up. At the age of 16, she was awarded a full scholarship to study and represent her country at the prestigious United World College of the Adriatic, located in the beautiful medieval town of Duino, Italy. This was a life-altering experience. At UWC Adriatic she lived with people from all around the globe, who broadened her horizons, challenged her deepest held beliefs and opened her mind to all the experiences and wonder this world has to offer. During her time at UWC Adriatic, she travelled across Italy and was surrounded by some of the world’s most beautiful art. This deeply inspired her to pursue a life in the arts. After being awarded a full scholarship to study at Ringling College, she moved to Sarasota. While in college, she fell in love with the city and decided to stay after graduation. Soon after this she began working at Fort Magic, a local toy company, where she is highly involved in product design and visual direction of the business. Aside from her full-time job as a designer and illustrator, she has been expanding her growing portrait painting business. Danica has collaborated with and been commissioned by RCLA, Bird Key Yacht Club, Art Ovation Hotel, Aloft Hotel, the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, and many others.  She plans on making her mark in Sarasota by creating beautifully compelling portraits inspired by the city’s most fascinating residents. 

See her portfolio at danicajokic.com.