(PRCA media release)
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The rodeo world lost a legend on Friday.
ProRodeo Hall of Famer Harry Tompkins, an eight-time world champion – including five bull riding titles (1948-50, ’52, ’60), one bareback riding win (1952) and two all-around crowns – (1952, ’60), passed away in Stephenville, Texas. He was 90.
“He was a fun-loving, generous man,” said Martha Jordan, Tompkins’ daughter.
Tompkins, a quiet kid from Peekskill Mountains of upstate N.Y., who never saw a bull until the day he climbed on, became one of the best cowboys in the long and storied history of rodeo.
Known for his sense of humor – he was photographed waving to a cameraman while riding a bull in 1949 – Tompkins was a popular champion with fans and his fellow competitors. A superb athlete and stylish rider, the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Tompkins possessed exceptional balance and coordination.
He took pride in living a clean-cut lifestyle – no cigarettes or alcohol, and no gambling. He traveled hard by car and airplane with friends and fellow champions Jim Shoulders, Casey Tibbs and Jack Buschbom, the first group to hit the road with the intensity and dedication characterized by modern-day cowboys.
“Really, I was always doing it for the fun, and it was fun for years and years,” Tompkins said in a Sept. 19, 1984, article in the ProRodeo Sports News. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Born in 1927, less than 50 miles north of New York City in Furnace Woods, N.Y., Tompkins learned to ride horses while working on a dude ranch, which had rodeos on Sundays to entertain guests.
In 1946, at 19 years old, Tompkins prepared to pull his first bull rope alongside the pros at Madison Square Garden. It took place at a special rodeo promotion where area wranglers – sponsored by the dude ranches which regularly employed them – had a chance to try their luck. Tompkins worked at the Cimarron Dude Ranch in New York.
By 1948, he was atop the rodeo world, winning the first of three consecutive bull riding championships.
He married Rosemary, the daughter of famous stock contractor Everett Colborn, in 1950, and moved to Dublin, Texas. He had a cattle ranch and designed the portable steel chutes that were used at rodeos in New York and Boston. Wrangler made him one of the first cowboys to have a corporate sponsor. After Rosemary died of cancer, Tompkins married current wife, Melba. He was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame with the inaugural 1979 class.
“I hope that I am not only remembered for my major accomplishments in rodeo, but also for my reputation of being honest, fair and respected for what I did,” Tompkins said in an Aug. 11, 1999, article of the PSN.
Tompkins is survived by wife, Melba, and her family; sons, Mark (Laura) Tompkins; Neal; daughter, Martha (Larry) Jordan and grandchildren, Jake and Ava.
Funeral services will take place July 3 at 10 a.m. (CT) at the Cowboy Church in Erath County at 4945 US-67, Stephenville, Texas, 76401.