John Fleming Thigpen Jr., who graced steeplechase meets as an official, volunteer and fan for more than 50 years, died Feb. 7 at Martha Jefferson House in Charlottesville, Va.
Born in Greenville, N.C., in 1920, Thigpen grew up in nearby Williamston. He attended Williamston High School, Mars Hill College and North Carolina State University, participating in the athletics programs of all three institutions. During World War II he served nearly four years with the Chemical Warfare Service at Huntsville Arsenal in Alabama.
Thigpen was passionate about horses, horse people and especially steeplechase racing, serving more than five decades as an official for the National and Virginia Steeplechase Associations. During this time he was an integral part of many steeplechase meetings and was close friends with horse owners, riders and stable help alike. He received the Francis Thornton Green Award from the Virginia Steeplechase Association in 1998 and the NSA's Monk Noland Award in 2002 for his volunteer efforts. In 2005 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the Virginia Horse Shows Association. John enjoyed nearly all outdoor activities on the coast, rivers and mountains of Virginia and his native North Carolina, especially hunting and fishing.
Although his first job was with Saunders and Cox Sawmill, his career focused on the importing and wholesaling of English riding equipment. He held sales and management positions with M.J. Knoud, Kopf Manufacturing Company, B.T Crump and Company, Blue Ribbon Leather Company and Northrun Saddlery and established an extensive business and personal network across the United States. John was active in saddlery trade shows and served on the Board of Directors for the Midwest, King of Prussia and Denver trade shows.
He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Eunice Parker "June" Thigpen, their sons James Anderson "Andy" Thigpen and John Fleming Thigpen III, his brother Joseph Thigpen and two grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Hospice of the Piedmont or The National Steeplechase Museum in Camden, S.C.
A memorial service will be held Thursday, Feb. 12, at 2:30 p.m. at Martha Jefferson House in Charlottesville, Va.