Don Thornton
1933 - 2021
BORN
1933
DIED
2021
DonThornton

Don Thornton (87) passed away on July 9, 2021. He was born on September 29, 1933 in Greensboro, North Carolina, to Annie Lee and Joseph Russell Thornton and passed away July 9, 2021. He grew up in Wilmington, NC. Don began his business career early in life delivering newspapers every morning before school. Don played football and baseball in high school and was active in Boy Scouts. He attended the University of North Carolina on a baseball scholarship and participated in the Carolina Choir, Chi Psi Fraternity and was a member of the Air Force ROTC where he was appointed squad commander. After graduation, he entered the U.S. Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant and completed flight school in 1957. He married Barbara Suiter Merritt of Hickory, NC, on May 21, 1956. They were stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he served as a flight instructor on C-124 aircraft. As a navigator and co-pilot, Don flew over 1,900 hours transporting military personnel and cargo throughout the South Pacific and Southeast Asia. His time in the military was incredibly special to him and spoke of it often.

After retiring as a Captain, Don began his long and storied career in the automobile business in sales for Greensboro Ford. In 1966, he and Barbara and their daughters moved to Dallas, TX, where he worked as the General Sales Manager for Maher Brothers Ford. Two years later, Lloyd Brown convinced Don to move to Tulsa to manage and later purchase Southland Volkswagen. In 1971, Ford Motor Company asked him to buy Crawford Ford located at I-244 and Mingo which then became Don Thornton Ford. Despite floods in 1974, 1976 and 1984, the store won numerous awards from both Ford and the industry. Don Thornton Ford was the top volume store in Tulsa for many years and one of the top 3 in customer satisfaction in the Southwest region. After a brief retirement, Don purchased the Lexus and Land Rover dealerships in 2000 and over the next 15 years added Cadillac, Audi, Jaguar and Volkswagen to build the Don Thornton Automotive Group that now employs and supports over 300 families in Tulsa. The National Automobile Dealers' Association recognized Don as a Time Magazine Quality Dealer on two occasions. He was proud to be named to the Dealer Council for both Ford and Lexus. He served as Chairman of the Oklahoma Motor Vehicle Commission and was also a past Chairman of the Oklahoma Automobile Dealers Association. Throughout his career, he always took an interest in the lives of his employees and celebrated with them as they grew and advanced in their own careers. Don always placed his customers and employees first. He placed the utmost importance on integrity and excellence. He was known for his storytelling and was gracious to every person he met. Don was proud to be an Automobile Dealer.

Don enjoyed serving on the Board of Hillcrest Medical Center in some capacity for almost 40 years. He loved learning about businesses other than the car business and brought a unique perspective everywhere he served including Children's Medical Center and the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. Don spent many years playing handball at what is now the Tandy Family YMCA and served on the board there for many years. Don and Barbara have been active with the Cystic Fibrosis and Make-A-Wish Foundations and were long-time members of Cedar Ridge Country Club. They have been active at Asbury United Methodist Church since 1967.

Don will be greatly missed by his wife of 65 years, Barbara; his daughters, Cathy (Larry) Atchley, Laura (Tom) Bloomfield and Sandi (David) Litzinger. He was blessed with 7 grandsons, Matt, Ryan, Tim (Alyssa), Jack (fiancée, Kristen), Michael, Andy and Sam and a precious granddaughter, Amy (Adam). He was a proud great-grandfather to Arlo and Boone. He is also survived by his brother, Michael (Cathy). The family would like to thank all those who helped care for Don, especially, Angel whose grace and wisdom helped make his transition peaceful for all. Memorial service will be Thursday, July 15th, at 11:00 am at Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Don's memory to the Better Together building campaign at Asbury United Methodist Church or a charity of your choice.

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Published by Tulsa World on Jul. 13, 2021.
MEMORIAL EVENTS
Jul
15
Memorial service
11:00a.m.
Asbury United Methodist Church
, Tulsa, OK
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11 Entries
I have so much respect for the lives of Don and Barbara Thornton. I taught at Thoreau when the Thornton daughters were students there. Barbara was an active volunteer at Children´s Medical Center when I taught there. I have received excellent service at Lexus of Tulsa for many years. Sincere condolences to Barbara and family. Linda Allen.
Linda Allen
Other
July 15, 2021
My sincere condolences to Don's family and friends. A wonderful man and I have only fond memories of his mentorship to me over 30 years ago in Tulsa. Always helpful and kind. Truly saddened to hear of his passing.
David Wassmann
Work
July 15, 2021
If you ever had the privilege of being a part of the Don Thornton employee family you were blessed. I loved being a part of that family. Many great memories. Barbara, and family I love you all and you will be in my prayers.
Danny Keim
Work
July 15, 2021
Don is one of the kindest people I ever had the pleasure of working with. A great gentleman.
Don Thornton
Work
July 15, 2021
Don was the sweetest man. For a lowly sales rep he always made time, and usually added a few great stories along with very polite zingers. We all could model his sincere generosity towards our fellows God puts in our path. RIP Mr. Thornton
Dan Rauscher
Work
July 14, 2021
My husband and myself both had the pleasure of working with Mr. Thornton at the Ford store at Memorial and I-244. We never felt like employees, we felt like family. We have worked for other dealerships, but the best memories are those from years with the Thornton family. Our deepest sympathies to Mrs. Thornton and family.
Donna McCully
Work
July 14, 2021
We transported automobiles for all of Mr Don Thornton´s dealerships for 20 years as Spry´s Transportation. We have been out of the business for the last 3 years and are so very sorry to hear of Mr Don´s passing. He always knew who I was when he saw me....He was a very great man and will be missed.
Paula & David Spry
Work
July 14, 2021
Mr. Thornton was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. It was my pleasure to work for him for several years. My sympathies to the family. Don will truly be missed.
Joe Odom
Work
July 14, 2021
Chris Sturm
July 14, 2021
Don was a great business friend from early in my career in the 60´s. He was the SalesManager at Brown VW at the time. We compared notes on business over the years, as our careers developed. He was always the same guy despite his great success in business. I always valued our friendship. He was a Good Guy! RIP
Jim Means
Friend
July 14, 2021
Barbara, I am sending my love and prayers to you and the family in the home going of Don. You mean so much to me. I will give you a call in a few days. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord! Don is in a good place now. Love to you all!
Darlene Johnson
Friend
July 13, 2021
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