Kenneth Ray Thornton, 79, of Mclean Virginia passed away peacefully at 5:00 am on Thursday December 2nd, 2021 with his family by his side. Kenneth was born, the seventh of eight children, to Rossie Marion and Gladys Pearl (Keene) Thornton on January 31st, 1942 in their family home in Newton Grove, North Carolina. He grew up a devout Christian in a large family, whose parents taught the value of family, honesty, discipline, religion, respect, manners and the love of music. Kenneth was regularly involved in the Pleasant Union Christian Church from his early childhood, he was active in the CYF (Christian Youth Fellowship), and as a teenager he even "preached from the pulpit". Kenneth’s moral foundation, his strong family bond, along with the responsibilities he inherited at age 15, after his fathers death; collectively cultivated the solid leadership skills and work ethic that became ever present qualities he possessed throughout his life. When Kenneth attended Hobbton High School in Newton Grove, not only did he announce baseball games, Ken worked at the local drug store, “barned" tobacco and picked cotton at their family farm. During high school he was the President of the Beta Club and the President of the Student Council his senior year. Although he was quite busy, he still found time to expand his love for music by playing guitar, something he learned at age 12 and enjoyed his entire life. When Ken headed to Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) with $100 in his pocket, his friends and family thought the natural progression into the ministry would materialize; however, God had different plans. Ken chose a Bachelor’s Degree in Business, the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity, and a wife. At age 20, he eloped and married his childhood sweetheart, Linda Joie Westbrook, “the love of his life". They married on November 20, 1962 at the First Methodist Church in Dillon, South Carolina and honeymooned at “The South of the Border”, a notable story among the grandchildren. Kenneth and Linda were married for 59 years. They met in the church nursery as toddlers, and as young teens they shared their bond of faith and attended their beloved Camp Caroline annually. Eventually they dated in high school, after Linda was caught by Ken, writing his name all over her school notebook. They were destined to be together. After high school, Linda joined Ken at Atlantic Christian College. During college in Wilson North Carolina, Ken managed “Wayne Dairy Bar” to pay his way through school and upon graduation, landed his first “big" job as an Industrial Engineer for Burlington Industries.
A few years into marriage and after Burlington Industries, Kenneth began his employment with IBM. At this time, he also began one of the most important chapters of his life: raising his family. He and his wife Linda, raised three children together and moved numerous times with IBM, from Charlotte, N.C., to Maryland, then Greensboro, N.C. to Georgia, to Rhode Island and then finally settling in Mclean, Virginia. He had an amazing career at IBM that spanned over three decades. Ken’s most significant promotion at IBM began in 1987 and was his job as the Vice President and General Manager for the Global Public Sector. In this role, Ken led IBM’s government , education, healthcare and pharmaceuticals business operations worldwide. During his tenure at IBM, he completed Executive Management Programs at University of California at Berkeley/Graduate School of Business, The Harvard Business School and the IBM International Executive Program. Additionally, Ken is the author of the book “Rethinking Government” and he has served on numerous boards, including the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts, The Federal City Council and the Barton College Board of Trustees (his alma mater, formerly Atlantic Christian College). Even with those accolades, if you asked Kenneth, what the highlight of his business career was, he would undoubtedly mention the time he was invited to play with "The Dixie Chicks" during an IBM event or when in 1996, he was asked to participate in the Olympic Torch Relay, prior to the Atlanta Summer Olympics.
Although Ken had an incredible work ethic, enjoyed an extensive business career and was a true leader, he was driven by his passion for family, his devotion to his faith and his love of music. As Ken and Linda raised their children, Ken would consistently pack up his wife and children and travel back to Newton Grove and the family farm for holidays and attend annual beach trips as much as possible. There were times it was a 10 hour drive, but the pilgrimage to the Thornton Family Farm was sacred. Ken developed close and unique personal relationships, not only with his three children, his children’s spouses, but also with his 5 grandchildren. Kenneth Thornton never wavered from his strong foundation, he never lost sight of his purpose, he always remembered who he was, and he, at no time, forgot where it is, that he came from……a small town in North Carolina called Newton Grove.
Preceding Ken in his death were his parents: Rossie and Pearl Thornton; his brothers: Cecil Thornton, Richard Thornton, and Wendell Thornton; his sisters: Marie T. Hill, Carolyn T. Stone, Jean T. Johnson; his sister-in-law’s: Hazel Thornton, Mary John Thornton and his brother-in-law’s: Marshall A. Warren and Ethro Hill.
Left to cherish his memory are his loving wife Linda Joie W. Thornton, son Brad Thornton (Maryellen) of Washington D.C.; twin daughters, Lisa T. Weiss (Michael) and Maria T. Galiani (Kirk), both of Mclean Virginia; 5 grandchildren, Zachary Galiani, Christian Galiani, Jackson Galiani, Annie Mae Weiss and Christopher Weiss; his sister, Sue T. Warren of Fayetteville, N.C.; sister-in-law, Linda West Thornton of Goldsboro, N.C.; brother-in-law Art C. Stone of Raleigh, N.C. and numerous nieces nephews and cousins.
A service to celebrate Ken’s life will be held on Saturday December 11, 2021 at 11:00 a.m. at Pleasant Union Christian Church 1920 Mount Olive Highway Newton Grove, N.C. 28366 officiated by Reverend Anthony Westbrook, Linda’s cousin.
Ken will be laid to rest at the beloved family farm, Thornton Family Cemetery, 220 Emmet Thornton Road Newton Grove, N.C. 28366 immediately following the service (12:30 p.m.).
Memorial gifts may be given in Kenneth's memory to Pleasant Union Christian Church P.O. Box 1 Newton Grove, N.C. 28366 Attention: Reverend Deborah Stilley / Memory of Ken Thornton.
We would like to give a special thank you to all the caregivers at I Help Reston and Heartland Hospice Care for their loving support for Kenneth during his final days. We are very grateful for all of you who made this process more endurable.
*** General Directions to the Thornton Family Cemetery: 1) Find your way to Newton Grove, N.C. 2) From the main traffic circle take Hwy. 50/55 Mt. Olive Hwy. 3) In approx. 1 mile you will pass Pleasant Union Christian Church, the next road on the right is Emmett Thornton Road (it is not marked, sign missing) 4) take a right 5) go approx. 1 mile, on left at top of hill is the Thornton Family Farm. ***
Online condolences may be made at: www.westanddunn.com
West & Dunn Funeral Home, Newton Grove, North Carolina is honored to serve the Thornton Family.
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