May 18, 2023
Terry Thornton, Born October 3, 1949. Died May 5, 2023.
If you know the story, that date really tells you all you need to know about Terry.
He was due on Christmas day.
Do the math.
We know he weighed less than 3 pounds when he was born.
He didn’t have fingernails.
Hair on his head.
He was too frail to weigh, and was rushed to an incubator.
But he survived.
Despite the head nurse who told his dad, waiting fearfully with the other dads, “not to waste a name you like on ‘it.’” Because “it” wouldn’t make it through the day.
Due December 25.
He spent a month in an incubator, living on donor milk.
Went home at about 4 weeks, the size of a tiny thing, fitting in the palm of his father’s hand.
His mom remained in the hospital for another month.
Family rallied around him, and he continued to live on donor milk.
His benchmarks were dramatically behind; sitting up late, walking late, talking late.
And he was incredibly ill as a child.
The first time he was enrolled in first grade, he attended four days.
Over the whole school year.
He was in the hospital with asthma most of the rest of the time.
Apparently the staff used him as a guide for newly admitted little kids from the time he was five or so...he was a sweetly-round-faced blond little cherub, happily showing the fearful ones the ropes he’d learned by heart far too early.
Because the cotton fields surrounding Arizona’s Valley of the Sun were a huge trigger for his asthma, Terry’s family made the decision that his health demanded a move, and after much research, they found a property in Cathlamet, Washington.
And they moved.
It was a miracle.
I don’t use that word lightly, and it was.
Terry went from regular hospitalizations to never seeing a doctor.
He became a creature of the woods and, as the family home was literally right on the river, moremost especially a river lover. He even swam the Columbia one summer, from Nassa Point to the corresponding point on the Oregon side, with his brother parallelling him in a rowboat.
They had a service station, where he learned his love of cars. A small motel, catering to loggers and tree planters. A separate acreage where they ran a few cattle and had hay. He had what was in many ways an idyllic childhood, running in the woods with his dogs, riding his dad’s horse, being active in FFA and theatre, playing football in junior high grades and making the friends one can only make in a small, rural community.
But Terry had bigger dreams than Wahkiakum County. He took two years of classes at Lower Columbia Community College in Longview, working his way through milking cows and commercial fishing for salmon in the Columbia River. Sometimes he raced landslides to get to class, and sometimes he fished all night and then drove to take finals, exhausted and stressed but doing it all to move forward.
He moved to Portland during the Park Block Riots of the 70’s, absolutely terrifying for a country kid, but he registered at Portland State anyway, and began his progression toward his Business degree. And again, he worked and studied, studied and worked...White Front then quit that as his academic load was too heavy, and then after Martha said he had to have a job before they could marry, so she got hired at this funny place stocking shelves for a place called Alfred Teufel Nursery...Well, that industry turned out to be the one, leading to a career that didn’t end until 2019 at Simplot Partners: and after being honored to be selected as Oregon Nursery Association President, Allied Supplier of the Year, and President of several Chapters in the Industry. He worked for Gage Industries, Nursery Connection, Nursery Supply, Western Farm, Nursery Connection and Simplot.
In 2016, on Memorial Day, he had a nasty fall; in the ED, a brain scan showed developing Frontotemporal Degeneration. Although he was asymptomatic at that point, the disease continued its cruel progression. All the research that Martha and the kids did couldn’t alter the cruel trajectory; he lost the right to drive in 2020 and body and mind continued to deteriorate. In December of 2022, Covid hit him hard and he went on hospice in January. In April of this year he took a bone-fracturing fall and never recovered, dying on May 5.
If you asked Terry what was important, he might recall to you an episode of the sci-fi show Quantum Leap, in which a man was zipped through time and space and gender to live out another person’s life until he was zapped away again. In a particular episode, a man was saved, and his importance: his children and grandchildren mattered to the world because of their deeds, their actions. And Terry has always felt that his great work has been Eric and TJ.
They are very, very different human beings and yet...where it matters, they are so very similar.
Kind, thoughtful, hard working, passionate about their work, extending a helping hand not only to friends and family, but to others in the world at large. Trying always to improve themselves personally and professionally. Lovers of travel. Adventuresome in eating and cooking. Delighting in small children and the ways of their magic.
There will be a very kid-friendly Celebration of Life at Hammerle Park in West Linn on June 25, from 11 to 2 (and probably beyond). Although Terry couldn’t figure out anything he wanted to support for a memorial, he did wish his brain to be donated to OHSU’s Brain Institute to study Fronto-temporal Degeneration, the cruel disease that led to his death. You could pay off a school lunch debt at a local school, or pay for a child who otherwise couldn’t go on a field trip. If you’re coming to the Celebration, maybe bring school supplies for TJ’s 5th grade class. Perhaps you’ll share a memory of Terry with the family, who misses him profoundly.