It was one of those perfect Southern California days on the afternoon in which I met Anita Thompson. The temperature hovered around 78 degrees on that serene afternoon; the sun was shining, but not harshly, and there was a warm, gentle breeze that blew across the patio of the Hotel Bel Air. I, unsurprisingly, was sipping on a glass of rosé and she was across the patio, safely socially distant, when we struck up our first conversation last July.
I was pleasantly surprised to meet someone as wonderfully loquacious as myself for once; before long, we were incessantly chatting about my writing work, our shared love of good wine, and her absolutely fascinating background in Hollywood. Amid our chat, her ex joined her at the table and introduced himself to me. He was none other than Kennedy Gordy, son of Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. Kennedy – better known by his stage name of Rockwell – a distinguished musician in his own right, broke out into the music scene with his runaway 1984 single, “Somebody’s Watching Me.”
It was wonderful to see two old flames that felt cordial enough toward one another to meet for lunch on one of those idyllic Los Angeles Sundays; where the world seems to move in slow motion before the start of a new week.
As our conversation progressed, Anita divulged that she and Rockwell shared a son, Ryan Gordy, who tragically passed away from leukemia in 2016. In his memory, she launched the Ryan Gordy Foundation in 2017; a nonprofit organization that educates and inspires young adults impacted by cancer to lead healthy lifestyles.
What struck me the most about meeting Anita was that I could recognize right away she was a woman of immense fortitude. She spoke about the exciting projects she was developing and her impressive plans for the next chapter of her life. She possessed an unrelenting spirit, who in the wake of overcoming the death of her son – an impossibly horrendous trauma – still had the ability to put one foot in front of the other and live each of her days to their fullest. And she also, not for nothing, shared a seemingly special bond with her ex-husband. Theirs was a union, much unlike their first marital union, that was something so complex, and beautiful, and tragic, that possibly only parents who had lost a child could understand. Despite the outcome of their nuptials, they were forever united in heartbreak and the shared love of their late son.
The Ryan Gordy Foundation is still going strong to this day. And in fact, on Saturday December 12th, they are having their last event of the year – a virtual Holiday Home Cooking Experience with celebrity chefs and doctors who will be bestowing to attendees helpful recipes and immune-boosting tips to stay healthy over the winter months. The Zoom event is free to join, and everyone is encouraged to register HERE.
I remember back in high school, I was complaining to my own mother about something trivial like having to do too much homework or how the popular girl in my class didn’t like me the way I liked her – which at the time both seemed like lifelong catastrophes. And then, my wise mother, Felicia, said to me something I still remember to this day:
“God doesn’t give us anything in life that we can’t handle. If it’s happening to you, it’s happening for a reason.”
And then I thought about Anita again. She is a woman who always looks ahead. While she keeps the memory and spirit of her son with her each day, she never lets his death hold her back. Instead, she takes the energy of his memory and lets it propel her forward into her next chapter.
Anita Thompson is someone that we could all learn from. She’s taught me, subliminally, how to take life in strides and how to balance the lessons we learn from our pasts and carry them into the future that only we can create for ourselves.
I know that if Anita could withstand the unbearable death of her only son, that for her, the sky is the limit. There is absolutely nothing that could stop her from being the dynamic woman she was always meant to be, and it was clear that she would carry out her son’s legacy with pride.