A Family Affair
Laura Thompson, founding member of the GLIDE Legacy Committee, remembers her mother by living GLIDE’s values
I was raised by a badass single mom.
She survived an abusive childhood at the hands of a schizophrenic mother and alcoholic father, and escaped to San Francisco in the 1960s as a young adult, where she found GLIDE.
At GLIDE, my mother saw Cecil Williams run the aisles with his massive afro preaching recovery and radical inclusion. At GLIDE, she heard Janice Mirikitani speak of her own abuse with honesty and eloquence. At GLIDE, my mom found her family. She also found the encouragement to pursue her two big dreams: to become a therapist with a client base as diverse and radically inclusive as GLIDE, and to have the baby she so badly wanted, though doctors insisted it wasn’t possible.
My mother achieved both of those dreams. For 40 years, she was known as a caring, no-nonsense therapist with a wildly diverse practice. She treated many of the people society disregarded with compassion and respect. Meanwhile, after years of trying and four miscarriages, I arrived—her impossible, miracle baby. She was a 41-year-old working single mom and for 16 years she slept on the couch in our tiny one-bedroom apartment so that we could live in a safe neighborhood with great schools. But she loved our little family. She kept a photo of Jan and Cecil in every daily appointment book she ever owned, and I grew up immersed in GLIDE’s values.
On the last day of winter break during my sophomore year of college, my mom had a brain aneurysm at work. She was gone by the time I got to the hospital. I will never forget carrying the plastic “Personal Belongings” bag out of the hospital and wondering what the hell I was going to do next.
But we’d been coming to GLIDE since I was a kid and I kept hearing the way Cecil would preach “Keep on keepin’ on” in my head. So I did. I asked Brown University to let me finish my education there, though I had nothing to offer them but the promise I’d someday be an alumna worth having. I landed a job at Google, lived in London for several years and traveled all over the world, and even got to be one of the first product leads at Google X where I shaped emerging technologies like self-driving cars and delivery drones.
GLIDE continues to be my family, and my mother’s ashes now live in the foundation of the GLIDE Community Housing building at 125 Mason, where, as she would have wanted, we’ve put her to work protecting the residents.
For the past 10 years I’ve struggled with telling my mom’s story. But lately I feel compelled to speak up—for myself, for the people around me who are increasingly marginalized, and in support of the communities and organizations that fight to protect our values. In the current chaos, the most vulnerable among us are even more at risk. GLIDE is on the front lines of that fight.
I was lucky to have been raised by a badass single mom. I was also lucky that she led me to a community as incredible, diverse and inclusive as GLIDE. The only way I know how to even start to repay that debt is to continue to fight for the values my mom and my GLIDE family taught me.
I am proud to be forever a part of the GLIDE family and to continue to fight hate with unconditional love.
Laura drove product strategy at Google X, preparing moonshot technologies including self- driving cars, smart contact lenses and drones for contact with the world. Prior to X, Laura spent several years in London spearheading Google’s first efforts in consumer electronics retailing, now replicated in hundreds of stores in more than 10 countries. She also worked as an investor in Google Ventures. Laura is a passionate advocate for female entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurship and advises and invests in a number of mission-driven startups with founders coming from non-traditional backgrounds. She is a founding member and former Co-Chair of GLIDE’s Legacy Committee, a group of young professionals committed to expanding Glide’s 51-year legacy of social justice innovation in the Bay Area. She’s currently taking a year-long sabbatical from work to travel and volunteer.