Obituary: Olin Woodrow Thompson, III, 50

by | Jul 19, 2022

Olin Woodrow Thompson, III, a Federal Defender, judicial nominee, avid pitch player, Liverpool fan, body surfer, musician, soccer-sideline watcher, standardized test savant, trivia monster and beloved son, brother, husband, father, and friend, died at his home in East Greenwich. He was 50.

Olin was born in August of 1971 in New Brunswick, N.J., when James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend topped the charts. A fitting tune as Olin’s life is marked by strong and deep connections with his Camp Fuller friends, members of the Rhode Island legal community, and his East Greenwich neighbors. A loyal and true friend, he will be missed by so many. 

Olin grew up in a home with silly and lovable dogs, St. Tina being a family favorite. His mother and father created a house filled with family dinners, art and the NYT crossword. Every summer when Olin was young he would spend time at Camp Fuller and a few weeks with his grandparents in New Jersey. He and his grandfather, the first edition Olin Woodrow Thompson, would go clamming and eat home-grown Jersey tomatoes on white bread. Olin loved traveling with his family and friends to Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. 

Olin grew up in Providence, R.I., and Newton, Mass. He attended Moses Brown and then graduated a Newton South Lion in 1989. He then headed to Vassar College where he majored in Political Science. After crushing the LSAT, Olin enrolled in Duke Law School in 1993 where he regularly played pick-up basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium, ate chicken and cheese biscuits, and helped save the life of a death row inmate. After law school, Olin’s innate sense of justice led him to the Rhode Island Public Defender where he worked every day to make sure his clients had a zealous defense. From the chaotic Courtroom 9 calendar, to private practice, to the Federal Defender, Olin’s gifts of argument, preparation and negotiation, along with his honesty and reasonableness, earned him deep respect from his peers, judges, court staff, and opposing prosecutors.

In more recent years he took a special interest in criminal justice reform, serving on Governor Raimondo’s Working Group on Criminal Justice Reinvestment, helping to institute and serving on the federal H.O.P.E (Helping Offenders Prepare for re-Entry) Court, and managing numerous federal sentence reduction projects. He was a longtime member and one-time President of the Rhode Island Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, served on numerous bench-bar committees, enjoyed judging middle-and high-school mock trial competitions, and was chairman of the East Greenwich juvenile hearing board. Olin was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws by Roger Williams School of Law in 2020. Judge William E. Smith of the United States District Court for the District of R.I. said, “Simply put, Olin has contributed more to the cause of justice and fairness than any other member of the bar of the federal court during my 18 years on the bench.”

In 1987 on Pt. Judith Pond, Olin met Christa Coviello at YMCA Camp Fuller. Camp boyfriend and girlfriend for a few summers, they eventually formed a deep and lasting friendship. They started dating for real in 1997, got married in 2000, and welcomed Olin IV (2003), Atticus (2006) and Nat (2009). The family moved to East Greenwich in 2009. 

Olin’s greatest joy was being with his boys and he shared his favorite things with them – music, nature, tide pools and breakwalls, Liverpool soccer, Red Sox baseball and countless morning drives to school and soccer games. His dedication to raising boys of character and empathy were communicated in his parting message to them as he dropped them off each day: “work hard, have fun.” As his ALS progressed he made a point of getting up early to text with each boy every morning before school proving to them the Liverpool adage, “you’ll never walk alone.”  Olin also loved playing guitar, oysters, dirty martinis, The Band, beach volleyball, body surfing on Crescent Beach, skiing and playing cards with his partner Matt against Christa and Kristie.   

Olin’s dry, absurd wit brought belly laughs to those who knew him. His love and pride for his sons was evident. Olin and his family loved spending two weeks every summer on Block Island, and spring break in the Outer Banks North Carolina with the “OBX Peeps” playing cornhole, fishing and eating North Carolina barbeque, and winter breaks skiing with Grandpop.   

In the Fall of 2018, Olin began experiencing symptoms of ALS and was diagnosed later that year. For a person so dedicated to fairness and justice, Olin was forced to endure the cruelty of this unjust disease. Losing his voice, which had served so well cracking-wise or singing, making closing arguments or cheering for East Greenwich, was particularly difficult. Being home with his boys, his faithful pup Rocco, and Christa kept him going for as long as he could. Now he leaves this body for a place where he can run, sing and swim again. 

Olin is survived by his beloved wife, Christa (Coviello) Thompson, his three sons: Olin IV, Atticus and Nat, his sister, Amanda Thompson and her partner Frank Sargenti, and his father Olin Thompson, Jr. He is preceded in death by his mother Maryjane (LaChac) Thompson. He leaves a legacy of humor, deep caring, wisdom and courage.

Calling hours: Friday July 22, will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Hill Funeral Home, 822 Main St., East Greenwich. His funeral and burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations in Olin’s name can be made to: I AM ALS and/or Compassionate Care ALS (CCALS). Olin would like you all to hug your kids daily and say three or four positive things for each negative. “It’s really hard! But you can do it.” 

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