If you bought plants or pies or fresh corn at Briarbrook Farm, you knew Alice Thompson. She was the woman behind the counter wearing the big smile and the glamorous hairdo.
Alice died Monday, at age 72.
The daughter of Hilda B. (Holroyd) Thompson and the late Lewis Thompson, Alice was born in Providence but raised in East Greenwich. She graduated from EG High School in 1958.
Alice was a flight attendant for American Airlines in the early 1960s. A sudden illness – spinal meningitis – halted her career but she joined her family, working at Briarbrook for the next 47 years.
According to her sister, Nanci, Alice was diagnosed last March with a very rare form of Parkinson’s disease – cortical basal ganglionic degeneration (CBGD). She was unable to work this past season as the disease quickly began limiting her movements and speech.
"My brothers Jerry and Dean placed a book for customers and friends to sign and wish her well at the stand," Nanci said via email.
"Everyone in the family refers to the business as 'the stand' – as many customers came to know. This originated with my Mom and Dad because, when they first started out, there was no building – just a simply-made outdoor wood stand that my dad built to put fruits and vegetables on that he grew in the fields – and sold to folks passing by on Route 2."
That one book for Alice turned into several books, "each one filled up in a short period of time with kind words and good wishes from hundreds and hundreds of customers," said Nanci.
"Every day or so, the book would be brought up to the house so Alice could read the new entries. She loved and appreciated each and every word. My sister LOVED people. My dad used to say that she could carry on a conversation with an ant. She would find the time to chat away with customers – offering gardening advice, accessing the condition of a poor-looking plant brought in (she’d say “stop watering it to much – you are drowning the poor thing!”) while really getting to know the people.
"My sister had an uncanny knack at remembering people’s names ... their spouses names, kids, pets. Alice loved all of God’s creations. Dogs, birds, cats.
"I remember years ago she came home with a litter of baby raccoons found by the side of the road – their mom had been run over by a motorist – she fed them with eye droppers, and took care of them.
"Work at the stand was not a job to Alice it was, well, her life. The business closes every year after Christmas and reopens just before Easter. Alice enjoyed many tropical vacations over the years to pass the time until spring. By the end of February, she was restless and couldn’t wait til spring to get back to work.
"She happily worked in the soil with plants in the spring (never without her gold jewelry, perfect hair, and of course lipstick!).
"Christmastime means the wreath-making operation. Boxwood wreaths made to order created by Alice, she always made sure it was perfect – bow in the right position – before any were allowed to leave the premises. She had the best and most genuine smile.
"She loved and cherished her family, friends, pets, customers, and was a fierce and loyal friend, generous and genuine.
"A famous quote by William Butler Yeats sums up Alice’s attitude with life and people: 'There are no strangers here. Only friends you haven’t met yet.' That is the way she lived. Never judgmental – accepting people for who they were. A sampler that hangs in her kitchen also sums it up: 'Let Me Live In A House By The Side Of The Road And Be A Friend To Man.' That is exactly what she did. She will be sorely missed – but her strong spirit will live within us always."
Besides her mother she is survived by three brothers: Gerald L., Brian L., and Dean A. Thompson; and a sister, Nancy R. Thompson. A private funeral will be held at her request. Calling hours Wednesday, Dec. 19, from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Hill Funeral Home, 822 Main St.