Mercedes Arissó Thompson passed away peacefully in her sleep on June 29, at home in Manhattan Beach, after battling three terminal diseases for over a dozen years. She left behind her husband Charlie, her brother Luis (Tania), her children Lynmarie and Mark, and grandchildren Laura, Mitchell, Eric, and Carole, along with countless dear friends and professional associates. Born in 1938 in Havana, Cuba, she became an American immigrant who thrived in this country, building a successful career, raising a loving family, and enjoying an expansive circle of cherished friends.
She grew up in Cuba, attending the first year of college at the University of Havana, which closed in 1957 due to the turbulence of the revolution, so she continued studies in English at Douglass College in New Jersey. When it got too dangerous in Cuba for her to return there over Christmas in 1958, she spent Christmas break at the home of a dear friend, Lynne Thompson, whose brother Charlie returned from the Air Force Academy for that holiday. When they returned to their studies, their courtship by correspondence ensued.
Mercedes graduated at Christmas, 1959 and went to Colorado Springs, near Charlie, until USAFA graduation. They married in June 1960 in Colorado Springs, then traveled to Havana for their church wedding. They spent their honeymoon touring the island, and then settled in Georgia where Charlie started AF Pilot Training and Mercedes began teaching (Latin and Spanish) at the local high school. By Christmas 1960, they moved to Texas where Charlie earned his pilot wings, and their daughter was born. Both of Mercedes' parents became refugees from Cuba and joined them in Texas.
They moved to South Carolina, (where Charlie flew Air Force transports), and their son was born. They also opened their home to more than a dozen other family members escaping Cuba as refugees. Mercedes taught high school (English, Typing, Girls' Basketball, Spanish) and at Florida State University Extension. As part of the family, her mother was especially helpful when Charlie served in Vietnam in 1966.
After that assignment they moved to Boulder, Colorado where she completed a Masters at the University of Colorado in1968. Then they moved to Ohio where she taught Spanish at the University of Dayton and started studies for her PhD in Latin American Literature. Next, the family moved to Manhattan Beach, California in 1972 and she completed her PhD in 1975 while teaching Spanish at Aviation High School (where both children attended). She moved briefly to Mira Costa High School and then on to El Camino Community College for the next 28 years. She was passionate about her work as a foreign language teacher, and continued teaching at El Camino until age 73.
She was highly regarded for her work. In 1990 she earned the Hayward Award, as one of California's 5 most outstanding teachers statewide. Beginning in the late 1990s she was afflicted by several life-threatening diseases, which she fought with great determination, and she adamantly refused to allow those illnesses to deter her zest for life, family, and friends. She remained active beyond retirement by giving workshops, mentoring, and training other teachers, through UCLA and other institutional sponsors, as a vital participant through age 81. She loved the classroom and found it tremendously rewarding.
The qualities that made her a great teacher were also treasured by her family and friends. She was energetic and enthusiastic, always brimming with ideas and encouragement. She loved to travel, both on teacher-oriented educational trips that she co-organized and directed (under various grants), and vacations with her children and grandchildren. She was a free spirit, throwing her energy into the pursuit of worthwhile projects and fun adventures alike. She believed in the good in every person. She adored her children and delighted in her grandchildren. Charlie was her husband, partner, and best friend, who meant the world to her. All who knew her will miss her beautiful smile, generous heart, and positive energy.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the charity of your choice, perhaps in her name.
Published by The Beach Reporter on Jul. 9, 2020.
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20 Entries
I have fond memories of Dr. Thompson as a former student and staff member of El Camino College. Today, I was reflecting on people that I found impactful in my journey. As a student, I tested out of Spanish 3 under a proctored exam administered by Dr. Thompson. As a staff member, I found Dr. Thompson as a caring, attentive, and optimistic professor. It was my pleasure to know her. My sincerest condolences to her family. Alberto Romero
Alberto Romero
September 11, 2021
I taught full-time at El Camino College from 1980 through 1998 in the Business Division, teaching courses in management, marketing, and law. Though we were on opposite sides of the campus, Mercedes and I worked together on committees.

She was a wonderful personality and dedicated educator. I admired her greatly. She left her mark on El Camino College in a positive way. She will be missed!

Prof. Burton Fletcher, J.D., MBA
Burton Fletcher
May 15, 2021
I'm deeply saddened to learn of Senora Thompson's passing. She was my Spanish teacher at Aviation High from 78-82, and truly one of the best teachers ever. I still remember her hand signals for Spanish verb conjugations! Thank you Sra. thompson for your dedication to your students, your compassion and your true brilliance. Que Descanse en Paz.
My sincerest condolences to the Thompson family. ❤
Alissa Marquis
May 3, 2021
I just learned today of Dr. Thompson's passing. She was strong, kind and deeply passionate about teaching. She was my Spanish professor for three terms when I was a kid out of high school. Her knowledge and dedication have stayed with me throughout my years as a former student and still, even now as a teacher. I enjoyed visiting with her and having conversations on campus about teaching and life. I could never bring myself to call her Mercedes though, even when she asked me to several times; she was an institution and a mentor. Her intelligence and wit will never be forgotten nor will the lessons that she taught me. I am deeply saddened to hear of her passing; she did so much for the department and for the students. Her legacy lives on in those she taught. I will forever remember her fondly. My sincerest condolences to her family.
Yvette Hawley
August 26, 2020
July 31, 2020
Remember "Mrs Thompson" very well from when we lived across the street on Maple Ave so many years ago. A life well lived, incredible person - our condolences to the Thompson family!
Matt Bauer
July 30, 2020
July 25, 2020

I had the pleasure of being Mercedes Thompson’s dean for most of her career at El Camino College. Evaluating her classroom teaching was probably the easiest thing I ever had to do as an administrator. She could electrify a classroom and galvanize the students into energetic vessels of learning like no one I’ve ever seen. She served for many years on the Academic Senate and took great interest in the direction of the college and the welfare of our students. When we would do interviews for adjunct instructors, she would always see something that I had missed. I will miss her deeply, her passion for helping others, her great sense of humor, her absolute devotion to her profession. Mercedes was simply the best of us.

Tom Lew
Tom Lew
July 25, 2020
I feel blessed to have worked with Mercedes at El Camino College. I will miss her enthusiasm, her kindheartedness, and her unending dedication to students, their learning, and their civic engagement. Such a beautifully written obituary to honor a beautiful soul. I was touched to have learned more about this incredible woman's life story. My condolences to her family and friends.
Kim Runkle
July 20, 2020
Mrs Thompson is one of two teachers at AHS I will never forget.Her energy was inspiring and kept me engaged.You could tell she loved her craft and I will miss her.
July 19, 2020
I did not have her for a teacher, but dealt with her several times as a student counsel member. She was a sweet lady and she accomplished so much. Mark and I sat next to each other in a 5/6 combination class and he is a terrific guy. His mom must have been a great influence on him. Im so sorry for your loss
Rob Zwierlein
July 18, 2020
Senora Thompson was my Spanish teacher throughout high school at Aviation. She impacted me in so many positive ways. She was a fabulous teacher, and she was easy to talk to. Im so sad to hear of her passing, but in life she accomplished so much! I have not, nor ever will, forget her. Descanza en Paz.
Michele Tafoya Vandersall
July 18, 2020
Mercedes was a wonderful person, she was my mentor and interviewed me when I was in my last semester at UCLA. She gave me the job few months before I graduated. She continually gave me tips and valued my job and creativity. I am happy that I had such a kind person in my life, and I send my most sincere condolences to the family.
Claudia Prada
July 14, 2020
Mercedes was such a wonderful person--always full of bright, sparkly energy. She was kind, very generous with her time and advice, and you couldn't help but smile whenever she was around. I feel very blessed to have known her. My condolences to Charlie and family.
Debra Mochidome
July 13, 2020
I work at El Camino College I meet Mercedes Thompson she was an amazing person. It was always a pleasure to assist her with her laptop issue and at times I will see her at the ladies restroom and we would talk and she would always ask me about my kids she was an amazing person I talk to her not to long ago I felt so happy to heard from her we talk and she ask me about my kids such a caring person and Beautiful Strong Person. My condolences to the family.
Elizabeth Flores
July 13, 2020
Mercedes is the person, the woman, mentor, friend, colleague, mother, wife, daughter who everyone strives to be, yet we fall short. Every time when I ran into Mercedes at the college, she had a smile on her face and something positive to say. She will always be in my heart.
Barbara Jaffe
July 12, 2020

Kay and I were deeply saddened when we learned that Mercedes had died.
She was such an inspiration to work and associate with. Her effusive personality will be greatly missed. Our condolences to you and your family.
Al and Kay Temmins
July 11, 2020
Mercedes was an amazing person and an inspirational teacher. When she was in good health, she hosted the Humanities holiday party at her home in Manhattan Beach. Even when she was breathing with the help of oxygen, she continued to teach because she was dedicated to her students. She was a mentor to many who joined the faculty after she became a professor. I remember a faculty senate/ECC Board retreat in Ventura when I roomed with Mercedes - and learned she could be a lot of fun to boot! Condolences to her family.

Sara Blake
English Professor, Retired
Sara Blake
July 10, 2020
I will always treasure the conversations I had with Mercedes. Her energy and positive spirit helped me through so many challenges in my professional life. She even gave me a little angel that I still have. She was such a gift to this world and I treasure her memory every day.
Barbara Jaffe
July 10, 2020
Ive missed her greatly since her retirement and will now have to continue to do so indefinitely. Her warmth and support were immeasurable.
Brent Isaacs
July 9, 2020
Although I taught in a different department, I was fortunate enough to get to know Mercedes at El Camino College. She was a vibrant, kind person who lit up the room with her energy. I consider myself fortunate to have known her, and I am glad that her family was blessed to have had her as a wife, mother, sister, and grandmother.
Matt Kline
July 9, 2020
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