Memorial Tribute to Dr. Bankole Thompson

Bankole Thompson Tribute

On behalf of, and with blessings from the Thompson Family, it is with deep sorrow that the University announces the passing of EKU professor emeritus Dr. Rosolu John Bankole Thompson this weekend. Dr. Thompson served Eastern Kentucky University for many years as an esteemed faculty member in the Criminal Justice department. He was known for being student-centered and excellence-driven. Prior to his passing, he was serving as the High Court Justice for Sierra Leone, having just completed his service as a commissioner on the Sierra Leone Commission of Inquiry, a commission formed to investigate the corruption of the previous Sierra Leone government. He was an embodiment of living life for a just and humane society. 

Dr. Gary Potter, a fellow EKU professor emeritus and former colleague, wrote this memorial tribute for Dr. Thompson: 

Dr. Bankole Thompson“Dr. Thompson was one of EKU’s most distinguished scholars and exceptional teachers. To say that Dr. Thompson had a life and career unlike any other in the history of the University would be an understatement.

Dr. Thompson grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He was largely raised by his grandmother who he described as a “market woman.” From a humble background, he graduated from Fourah Bay College, then affiliated with Durham University in England, with a liberal arts degree in 1961. From there he earned his master of arts in law in 1971 and his Ph.D. in law in 1976 from the University of Cambridge (Christ’s College).

After receiving his Ph.D. from Cambridge, he returned to Sierra Leone to begin a distinguished legal career. He served a state counsel in Sierra Leone’s Attorney General’s office from 1971-1976. From 1977 to 1981 he was the legal officer for the Mano River Union serving Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. In 1981 Dr. Thomson became a High Court Judge of Sierra Leone, with appellate review jurisdiction over all magistrate’s courts.

At the invitation of the U.S. Ambassador, Dr. Thompson began a research tour of the United States. In 1988 he was appointed to the David L. Brennan Chair of Comparative Constitutional Law at the University of Akron, School of Law. In 1990 he joined the criminal justice faculty at Kent State University.

In 1995 Dr. Thompson become a faculty member at EKU in the Department of Criminal Justice. And in 2001 he was named dean of Graduate Studies, becoming the first person of African descent to hold that position.

As a researcher, Dr. Thompson authored three books, three book chapters, and more than a dozen peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals. He conducted a study with the University of Kentucky law school on prosecutorial misconduct in Kentucky. He wrote extensively about crime and law in Africa and often focused on gender inequality in the law. He also taught a wide variety of courses at the graduate and undergraduate levels with an emphasis on criminal law and criminal procedure, courts, and comparative criminal justice.

While at EKU he was appointed to the United Nations Special Court for Sierra Leone following the tragic civil war in that country. Dr. Thompson has the unique and singular distinction to be the only judge to ever issue an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state, Charles Taylor, the President of Liberia. Following his service on the World Court, Dr. Thompson was appointed to the United Nations’ West African Commission on Drug Trafficking and Other Transnational Crimes. He then went on to serve on the Residual Special Court for Sierra Leone.

But Bankole, as he was known in the halls of the Stratton Building, was much more than an accomplished researcher, educator, and distinguished jurist. Every day, without fail, he would make a circuit of departmental and faculty offices, checking on the well-being of faculty and staff, conversing and joking with them. He would regale everyone with stories and about his travels. He talked affectionately about his wife and his children. Ultimately, he was a kind and caring man.

Rosolu John Bankole Thompson brought international renown to EKU and the University will be forever in his debt.” —Dr. Gary Potter, professor emeritus, Eastern Kentucky University

“Eastern Kentucky University meant a lot to him,” said his daughter, Christiana Adiatu Thompson. “Thank you so much for supporting his work and working towards the human good. Please lift the Thompson Family up in prayer and thoughts as they continue to heal. As an alumna, I am honored that EKU is the example of leadership that Dr. Thompson exemplified. Thank you so much,” Thompson said.

Published on May 19, 2021