18 January 2017

Obituary: Peter Thompson

It was with great sadness that we learned of the recent death of Peter Thompson, a very well-known and loved member of the laser community with a long career in laser material processing.  Peter died, aged 69, following a cardiac arrest on January 4th, 2017. At his side, were his wife Pam and sons Lee and Marc.

Peter was born in Blackpool, the eldest of three sons, and held degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering.  He spent most of his working life living in Rugby, where his laser career started at JK Lasers (Lumonics). There he worked on applications development over a period of 10 years where, among numerous career highlights, he worked on laser pulse shapes for drilling (which resulted in a patent) and developed the ground-breaking process of drilling cooling holes in aerospace engine components for Rolls Royce during the 1980s. 

Peter moved on to started his own firm, aptly named Laser Experience, offering his laser material processing application experience to many other organisations (too numerous to mention all of them) around the world including Microkerf UK, Lastec Switzerland, and Prima Power Laserdyne USA, where he held the position of Technical Director for many years until he retired recently to spend more time in Rugby with his family.

In a career spanning 40 years, Peter Thompson had a no-nonsense approach to laser material processing and was able to achieve the best results in the shortest time when facing a new or challenging application.  Largely unsung, he was a modest person who was not concerned with selling himself – his reputation and referrals by word-of-mouth spoke for themselves.  He devoted his time to trouble-shooting laser processes, training operators and engineers and turning his hand to whatever he could.  He also contributed many technical articles and spoke at several laser conferences worldwide.

Peter enjoyed motor sport, as well as being a keen aviator who had his own pilot’s licence and would fly around Europe combining business and pleasure.  On one occasion apparently, after the French Grand Prix he was observed to fly himself away from the circuit in his chartered plane ahead of the planes carrying most of the drivers.    

Terry VanderWert, president of Prima Power Laserdyne said, “Peter was not only a colleague, but a close personal friend of my family. He spent many days and nights living at our home when he was working in the USA for extended periods. Even today, my wife Joy, our children and granddaughters speak of the great times they had with Peter. My wife often tells the story of frequently picking up Peter at Minneapolis airport with our 70-pound dog, Ranger, riding along. On one occasion, Ranger was so happy to see Peter when he arrived that he crawled onto his lap and rode that way in the front seat of the car. Peter seemed genuinely honored by the dog’s affection which was a tribute to Peter’s caring and warm personality. The ride together became a regular ritual for both Peter and Ranger.”

Mark Barry, Vice President of Prima Power Laserdyne, reflected on the cordial working relationship he had with Peter Thompson over many years by saying, “Peter was more than a colleague to me and to most people who had the pleasure of meeting and working with him. Peter had all the time in the world for people that sincerely requested his help. Even during his too short ‘retirement’ he was available to those seeking his advice and help. His wonderful family and all who knew him in the industry will miss him.”

With thanks to Mark Barry, Terry VandeWert and David Gattward for their contributions.

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