The Land Man
August 18, 1931 — June 21, 2019
William Bryce Thompson, IV, one of the largest landowners in New Jersey, died on June 21.
Bryce was born on August 18, 1931 in his father’s home in Valley Head, Alabama, but Bryce is well known as a longtime Princetonian, having grown up at 195 Nassau Street in the house his grandfather built, where Bryce later had his office.
As Bryce grew up, his family faced significant challenges, so that Bryce clearly understood from early age that, except for their love, he was on his own. Bryce was a man of big ideas, fierce ambition, hard drive, risk-taking, and strong work ethic.
Bryce graduated from Princeton High school and then attended seven different colleges for one semester each. As he often recounted: “Seven colleges and no degree!” His college career seemed to have more to do with tourism than education, and also because Bryce had to pay for college himself, by teaching tennis ( he was a self-taught player) in summer and selling Christmas trees out of his front yard in the fall — and sometimes through his poker winnings. As he said, “One semester was all I could afford!”
Bryce volunteered to be drafted and was sent by the army to occupied Germany, during the last year of Germany’s occupation. He was initially assigned as a typist — but his superiors soon realized Bryce’s skills did not lie there, and Bryce was reassigned to head up the tennis program the army established to rebuild relationships among the formerly warring nations.
Known to many as “the Land Man,” Bryce started Thompson Land in 1958, and he quickly became one of the largest landowners in New Jersey.
Since the mid-1980s Bryce has been committed to land preservation. In the living room of his longtime East Amwell home in Ringoes, Bryce held one of the first meetings in the state to launch land preservation. East Amwell is now 45 percent preserved.
Bryce himself is regarded as the major individual land preservationist, especially in central New Jersey.
Bryce’s predilection for adventure and risk-taking led him to distinguish himself not only in real estate, but in sports. He loved tennis and was a competitive player. He took up riding in his 40s and won the Fall Hills Steeplechase, was a polo player though his mid-70s, and served as master of hounds of the Amwell Valley Hounds fox hunting club.
He was a member of the St. Moritz Tobogganing Club, in Switzerland, where he raced the skeleton toboggan on the famous Cresta Run and won the World Seniors race. His endeavors included hang-gliding, sky-diving, scuba diving, fast cars, fast motorcycles, and beautiful women.
Bryce is predeceased by his father William Bryce Thompson, III, his mother Felicita Doris Golden, and his brother John Golden Thompson.
Bryce is survived by his wife Grace White Thompson; his children Lise Thompson and William Bryce Thompson, V from his first wife Siri Willits; his son-in-law Robert Brander, his daughter-in-law Kristen Thompson; his children Barton Thompson and Hannah Thompson from his second wife Frances Lippincott; his grandchildren Nina Brander, William Bryce Thompson, VI, and Finley Thompson; and his stepchildren Wilson Weed, Mary Grace Hodgkins, and Morgan Weed.
Donations in his honor may be made to the NJ Conservation Foundation, 170 Longview Road, Far Hills, NJ 07931 or D & R Greenway Land Trust, 1 Preservation Place, Princeton, NJ 08540.