Hubert and Gertrude (Aho) Thornton

Our loving husband, father and grandfather Dick Thornton, 76, went to be with the Lord on May 9, 2009, after fighting end-stage renal disease for 12 years. He brought love for his family, a heart to help and a booming laugh to this world and we shall miss him dearly.

A Memorial Service celebrating his life is set for 2 p.m., Sunday, May 24, at St. Michael?s Episcopal Chapel, 2402 S. College Ave., Bryan, Texas 77801. The Rev. Karl TeWald of Faith United Church of Christ will officiate. Interment will be at Restever Memorial Park – Mausoleum in Bryan.

Dick was a Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A-M University and a former Associate Department Head. He completed significant research before and at Texas A-M University, specifically in composite materials. But more importantly, he was proud of his students. While at A-M, he was advisor to ASM and Society of Women Engineers chapters and coached the ?ME Bunch? intramural football team.

Before coming to A-M, he worked in the space program at General Dynamics in Fort Worth, Texas, and for the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, D.C. He was a member of the American Ceramic Society, American Society for Metals, American Society of Mechanical Engineers, SAMPE, American Welding Society (Adams Memorial Award), American Institute of Chemists (Fellow, Professional Chemist) and New York Academy of Sciences. He is listed in Who?s Who in Frontier Science and Technology. He was also a member of Phi Kappa Phi, Tau Sigma, Sigma Xi, Blue Key, Keramos and was certified as a Professional Engineer (Texas).

Dick was born on November 15, 1932, in Van Etten, N.Y., to Hubert and Gertrude (Aho) Thornton. Dick, younger brother Lyle and sister Carol grew up in this small, mostly Finnish town in upstate New York, surrounded by a large extended family. Dick loved all sports, especially baseball, and music, especially Big Band music. In high school, he lettered in four sports, played alto sax in the band, clarinet in the orchestra and was valedictorian of his class, receiving several college scholarships.

He received his Bachelor of Science in ceramic engineering and Master of Science degree in glass technology from Alfred University in New York where he was known as ?Hubie? to his friends. As a proud member of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, Dick enjoyed his college years. They were filled with intramural sports, step singing, frat parties and the annual St. Pat?s parade, which included a somewhat unsuccessful beard-growing contest. He stayed in touch with many of his fraternity brothers, gathering in New York periodically for fun-filled reunions. He received his Ph.D. in ceramic engineering from the University of Illinois.

He met his future wife Shirley (Steffens), in Washington D.C. at the Methodist Church. They married in Mishawaka, Ind. on June 27, 1959, and then moved to Champaign, Ill., where Dick pursued his doctorate. Their daughter Cheryl, was born a few years later. The young family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, where Dick worked for General Dynamics. Their son Scott, was born shortly after. The family moved to Bryan, Texas, in 1967, where Dick taught in the mechanical engineering department until his retirement in 1997.

Dick was very active in his local church, Faith United Church of Christ. He was a Sunday school teacher, a church council member, member of the choir and a basketball team coach. He was instrumental in several lay and interdenominational study groups and in the church?s building campaign.

He was active in many community organizations, serving as coach and president of Little League East for several years and as a mentor in the Bryan HOSTS ?Help One Student To Succeed? program, at Crockett Elementary School. He also worked with the Brazos Church Pantry, RSVP Retired Senior Volunteer Program, the Upper Burton Creek neighborhood association and Friends of the Library.

He had a brilliant mind, achieved many professional accomplishments and gave his time and energy to his community and church. But when asked how he wanted to be remembered, Dick said he wanted people to remember him as a good son, husband, father and grandfather. And that truly is his legacy.

He was preceded in death by his mother, Gertrude (Aho) Thornton, his brother, Lyle Eugene Thornton, a sister, Carol Ann Thornton and step-mother, Doris (Hall) Thornton.

Survivors include Shirley, his wife of 49 years and primary caregiver during his chronic illness; daughter, Cheryl (Thornton) Frost; son-in-law, Jon Frost; and grandchildren Alec, Austin and Alyssa Frost of Coppell, Texas; son, Scott Thornton and grandchildren Ben and Jack Thornton, of Houston; his father, Hubert Thornton, of Bryan; sister-in-law, Barbara Thornton; and nephew Lyle Thornton, of St. Petersburg, Fla.


  1. Shirley, we are so appreciative of the time we had with Dick in our life. Always smiling and joyful to be with. He will be missed. He was indeed fortunate to have such a dedicated care giver as you. Our warmest regards

    Pat – Al Stirling.

  2. Shirley,

    With heartfelt sympathy to you and family in the passing of Dick. May the Lord bless you during the days, weeks, and months ahead. As Jesus promised, ‘I will never leave your nor forsake you.’

    Jan Wiedemann

  3. To the family of Richard Thornton: My heart and prayers are with you at this difficult time.


    Betty Suggitt

  4. My thoughts are with the Thornton family during this difficult. I first met Dr. Thornton when I started in Mechanical Engineering in the late 80’s. He was a joy and that laugh is one that I will never forget. I always enjoyed visiting with him during departmental functions after his retirement. He called me in early spring to see if I could help with the application to TAMU of one of his grandchildren.

    He will always have a special place in my heart..

  5. dear Shirley and family,
    I was so very sorry to hear of your loss. You all have my deepest sympathy. With my love, Billie

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