Zan Thompson; Political Aide, Times Columnist

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Zan Thompson, petite flame-haired dynamo, actress, columnist, Republican political guru and self-described den mother to newsmen on the campaign trail, has died. She was 85.

Thompson died Friday at a Palm Springs hospice, said her son, Timothy Thompson. She had been in deteriorating health for five years.

"She was Auntie Mame," said Bill Boyarsky, city editor of the Los Angeles Times, who met Thompson when he was Sacramento bureau chief for Associated Press and one of that mostly male political press corps in the 1960s.

"She was den mother of the pressroom, and, as a moderate Republican, was a very sensible link for us to right-wing Republican candidates," Boyarsky said. "She had this incredible love of life, just a pleasure in life, in storytelling, in people. She was very religious and just so caring of people."

Thompson was the first woman to run a California statewide political campaign--that of Max Rafferty, whom she helped get elected superintendent of public instruction in 1962.

And she became media director for the Republican State Central Committee and for the 11 Western states during the presidential campaigns of Richard M. Nixon and, later, Ronald Reagan.

As special assistant to the Republican National Committee, taking orders from Herb Klein, director of communications in the Nixon White House, Thompson handled the media for California visits of Cabinet members, First Lady Pat Nixon and daughters Julie and Tricia Nixon.

Thompson also became a close friend of former U.S. Sen. and Gov. Pete Wilson and handled media chores for his senatorial campaign.

Born in Portland, Ore., Thompson was home schooled by her attorney father in her early years and entered Beverly Hills High School at the age of 12. She majored in English at Mount St. Mary's College and taught creative writing and composition.

During her college and teaching years she was also a busy actress--as an understudy and then performing in the melodrama "The Drunkard" for 12 years.

Married to Douglas Kingsley Thompson, she worked into politics as a suburban homemaker volunteer in various campaigns. Then came Rafferty's bid for state office and, for Thompson, the political big time.

Working as a public relations consultant when she wasn't handling campaign media, Thompson aided the American Cancer Society and Pepperdine University, among other clients.

And she shared her sense of humor in print, with columns in The Times, the Washington Post and the Fullerton News Tribune. Her column ran in The Times from the early 1970s through 1990.

Thompson, a widow, is survived by her son, of Palm Springs, one granddaughter and one great-granddaughter.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. March 31 in St. Mary's College Chapel, 12001 Chalon Road in Brentwood. Her son asked that memorial donations be sent to Guide Dogs of the Desert or any charity benefiting animals.

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