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THORNTON JOHN FRANCIS THORNTON A distinguished leader and labor organizer of the nation's air traffic controllers, died on November 3, 2013. Mr. Thornton was 68 years-old. The son of Anne Devine Thornton and James Thornton, and a native of Atlantic City, New Jersey, he attended Atlantic City High School. After graduation, Mr. Thornton enlisted in the U.S. Air Force where he became a military air traffic controller. During his eight-year career with the Air Force, Mr. Thornton served at Phan Rang Airbase in Vietnam. Upon his honorable discharge from the Air Force, Mr. Thornton joined the Federal Aviation Administration in 1973 as a developmental air traffic controller and became active in the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Association. Mr. Thornton was soon elected President of the PATCO local at Washington National Airport - a position he held through and after the 1981 strike After PATCO's decertification, Mr. Thornton became a prominent leader in the movement to reorganize the FAA's air traffic controller workforce that culminated in the certification of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association in June 1987. He held a number of high-level positions at NATCA, including National Coordinator, Executive Director and Senior Director of Legislative Affairs. Mr. Thornton frequently testified at congressional hearings on air safety, controller workload and staffing levels. During this time, he also received his B.S. in Political Science magna cum laude from LaSalle University and served as an AFL-CIO special envoy to Russia in 1992. In 1997, Mr. Thornton returned to the FAA to work on initiatives to upgrade and modernize the world's largest air traffic control system. His first position was in the Air Traffic Requirements Service. In 1998, he was tapped to support Free Flight Phase 1, a program to accelerate implementing new technology tools to benefit National Airspace System users. Two years later, the FAA Administrator named Mr. Thornton director of Free Flight Phase 2, a program designed to build on the successes of its predecessor and introduce new capabilities to improve air traffic safety and efficiency. Until retiring from FAA in 2008, Mr. Thornton continued to support modernization initiatives and served in other roles, including leading communications for the launch of the Air Traffic Organization. Thornton's distinguished public service career totaled 43 years, with his U.S. Air Force and FAA service. Mr. Thornton is survived by his wife of 44 years, Virginia Tomascik Thornton; his daughter and son-in-law, Michelle Thornton Daniels and Shawn William Daniels; granddaughter Amanda Nicole Daniels and brothers and sisters, Donald Devine, Patricia Thomson, Carol Padgett and Edward Thornton. His brother, James Thornton died in January 2013. A memorial service for Mr. Thornton will be held in early 2014. A memorial service for Mr. Thornton will be held in early 2014.
Published in The Washington Post on Nov. 19, 2013