Indiana Jones of ArizonaPosted on: October 10, 2012
Rich Thompson is no stranger to being in the news.
An avid hiker, he and his wife made headlines locally and across the country in 2008 when they had to fend off a rabid bobcat while hiking in the Santa Rita Mountains.
One second, his wife was pointing out a cat, and the next, it was on her, Thompson says. Meanwhile, their two dogs "both decided that discretion was the better part of valor," and did not jump to their masters' aid.
After the cat sank its teeth into his wife's calf, he managed to get it off of her.
"Then I had to do battle with the cat until it was dead," he says.
Thompson's boss, Associate Vice President for Federal Relations Shay Stautz, has been known to refer to him as the "Indiana Jones of the University," though Thompson laughs off the comparison.
But there is a dinosaur named after him – Sonorasaurus Thompsoni – that he discovered in the 1990s, shortly after he read the Michael Crichton book "Jurassic Park."
"When I was a kid, I always wanted to be a dinosaur hunter, so (after reading the book) I decided to go see if I could find some around here," he says.
He began his search in the Santa Rita Mountains, sometimes with a friend but mostly alone.
Though he found slim pickings in this part of the country, a bit of research led him to the Whetstone Mountains southeast of Tucson, where he managed to unearth some fossils, including Sonorasaurus. The find inspired him to return to school and get his doctorate in geological sciences.
Of course, to do that, he had to finish his bachelor's degree in mathematics. He had abandoned it in the 1980s, a move he refers to as "a huge mistake, worst mistake of my life."
After getting his doctorate, he taught in the geosciences department and loved it, but after a few years he began to ruminate on his students' citizenship skills.
He felt that the federal government was developing a decidedly anti-science climate, which made him feel that people, including his students, should be exercising their citizenship rights as much as possible.
Eventually he landed a congressional science fellowship in Washington, D.C., where he worked for a year in the office of U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva.
When he returned to the UA, his teaching position was no longer available, but his current position was, so he applied.
"I don't know how I ended up as a lobbyist from a geologist, but it happened," he says. "In my spare time, I still do mineralogical research and publish papers and stuff."
Courtesy of Shelley Shelton, University Communications