By Barney Blakeney
Robert Thompson’s story is an inspiration for anyone with a dream and the hope of fulfilling it. A native of the East Cooper Town of Awendaw, the small close-knit community grounded Thompson in moral values that come with knowing your neighbors and being accountable to them. That rural upbringing also was fertile ground for distractions.
Living in an area rapidly transitioning from rural to urban, Thompson enjoyed a unique incubation that comes from being isolated among friends who often also were his relatives. They did things like routinely breaking into the community’s public school to watch television or play basketball. But they also were aware that some adults and school officials in the neighborhood knew about their non-malicious antics.
Going through school at Porcher Elementary and later Lincoln High, the 1989 high school graduate learned the value of hard work and responsibility. While in high school he and his older brother would come to downtown Charleston to work in his grandfather Jack Keith’s restaurant, The Patio Restaurant on Bogard Street which was just a few blocks from where his mother, had grown up.
Thompson matured into adulthood experiencing the fast life in the city, the serenity of his rural Awendaw and the benefits of hard work and the money that comes from it. Working with his grandfather and brother some four years after high school, Thompson felt a need for independence and got a job pulling up tree stumps for a land clearing business. The work was hard, but the money was good. After working 10 years with the company and learning to operate site clearing equipment, Thompson realized he had the skills to become his own boss. With that realization he struck out on his own.
His work ethic pushed him to increase his marketability. He obtained his state septic system license which added to the services he provided. But the lure of fast money resulted in his making some poor choices. “I got into the ‘game’,” Thompson says with regret about his decision to invest in illegal drug trafficking. The decision cost him eight and one-half years of incarceration. But upon his release in 2013, Thompson knew exactly what he needed to do. The illegal drug game was a ticket into a violent outcome or another prison sentence, he’d learned.
“I like nice things, I could do good work and people knew it,” said the 42-year-old father of four. He had saved some money so he bought some land clearing equipment and got back into the stump clearing business. “I’m staying busy,” he says. He employs two people regularly and others when needed. “Things are looking good,” he says.
“I’m just a fella trying to get ahead and accomplish something in life,” says the unassuming entrepreneur. Thompson owns or leases all the heavy equipment he uses for the site clearing, excavations and demolition jobs he performs. To give something back, he provides training to other heavy equipment operators helping them sharpen their skills and increase their employability. To anyone with a dream Thompson says, “Stay focused on your goals and produce the quality work that gets you positive results.”