Baylor Mourns Death of Jack Thornton, Retired University Host, Director of Data Processing

July 21, 2007
News Photo 4180Jack Thornton, director emeritus of Wiethorn Visitors Center and Data Processing and Computing at Baylor.

Media contact: Lori Fogleman, director of media communications, (254) 710-6275

Jack M. Thornton, a longtime Baylor University administrator who helped install the university's first punch-card computing system in the late 1950s and retired in 1998 as University Host, died July 21 in Waco after a battle with cancer. He was 76.

"In his 41 years of service to Baylor, as director of data processing and then as University Host, Jack Thornton made a lasting impact on Baylor and an indelible 'first impression' on all visitors to our campus," said Baylor President John M. Lilley. "His initial work with the punch-card system put Baylor on the early course of technological sophistication that is a hallmark of the university today. As the university's host, he set a high standard in hospitality that lives on at Baylor."

Funeral services for Thornton will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 24, at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, with Dr. Ron Durham officiating, assisted by Dr. Glenn O. Hilburn, professor emeritus of religion at Baylor.

Burial will follow at Waco Memorial Park.

Visitation will be from 5 to 8 p.m. Monday, July 23, at OakCrest Funeral Home, 4520 Bosque Blvd. in Waco. A memorial video honoring his life will be shown during the visitation.

Thornton was born Sept. 23, 1930, in Troy, Texas, to L.L. and Alma Mae (McMullen) Thornton. He married Irene McClain on June 18, 1950, in Temple. He served as a staff sergeant and a data processing specialist in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War from 1951-55.

After completing his military service, Thornton was a machine accountant from 1955-57 for Humble Oil and Refining (now ExxonMobil) and also attended the University of Houston for a year. He came to Baylor in 1957 on the GI Bill, attending classes as a full-time employee while he completed his degree in accounting. He served as Baylor's director of data processing, now Information Technology Services, from 1957-77.

While working in Baylor's public affairs office, he successfully organized a national conference in Waco, which caught the attention of then-President Herbert H. Reynolds. Reynolds appointed Thornton to the newly created post of University Host, where he was responsible for all campus visitors, from those attending conferences and summer camps to visiting dignitaries and professors. Thornton also assumed the role of director of the Wiethorn Visitors Center in 1980.

Thornton told The Lariat in a February 1997 article, "I am a firm believer in a good first impression. I want people to leave Baylor feeling good about their experience here."

Thornton also worked at the executive level of two national organizations related to his work at Baylor. The first was CUMREC (College & University Machine Records Conference), and then ACCED-I (Association of Collegiate Cultural Events Directors International.)

He retired in May 1998 as director emeritus of Wiethorn Visitors Center and Data Processing and Computing at Baylor.

Thornton received several honors, including the Honored Retired Faculty and Administrators Award from the Baylor Alumni Association in May 2005. In 1992, ACCED-I presented him with its Distinguished Service Award, which was renamed the Jack Thornton Distinguished Service Award in 1999.

He was active in the community at Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, Waco Founders Lions Club, Waco Jaycees, Lake Air Little League Baseball and Lake Air Pee Wee Football, and Providence Hospital Volunteer Organization.

He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother, Rev. Freeland (Dugan) Thornton.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Irene; daughters, Pamela Thomas and husband, Daniel of Bowie, Md., Tina Balega and husband Peter of Detroit Lakes, Minn., and Susie Vickery and husband Alan of Argyle, Texas; and son, Larry Thornton of Waco. He is also survived by two sisters, Bessie Melton and Clarice Estelle Kime, both of Houston. He leaves nine grandchildren, Nora Thomas, Kimberly Balega, Christy Balega, Jaclyn Balega, Corey Thornton, Adam Thornton, Julia Vickery, Patrick Vickery and Jack Vickery.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Jack Thornton Baylor University Scholarship, One Bear Place, Waco, Texas 76718 or Bluebonnet Hospice, 307 Londonderry, Waco, Texas 76712.

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