David F. Thornton ’48
David F. Thornton was vice-president of development at Roanoke College, a state senator and development officer at Harvard University. His career and political activities reflected his strong commitment to higher education.
Mr. Thornton grew up in Salem, Virginia, and graduated from Andrew Lewis High School. He entered Roanoke College in the fall of 1941, but his college years were interrupted by a tour of duty in the Asiatic Pacific during World War II. From 1943 to 1946, he served as a radio operator with the Army Airways Communications System.
He returned to Roanoke and earned his B.A. in English in 1948. While a student, Mr. Thornton served as the editor of The Brackety Ack and was a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, Kappa Tau Alpha Society, Blue Key Honor Society and the Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society. He went on to earn a master's degree in English literature from Columbia University in 1950.
After completing his graduate studies, Mr. Thornton served Roanoke College in numerous positions, including as alumni director, acting admissions director, director of development and director of the publicity and public relations programs.
He left the College in 1953 to follow in his father's footsteps and become the owner, editor and general manager of the Salem times-Register and vice president of the Salem Publishing Company. He also served as the president of the Salem Chamber of Commerce. In 1956, he was named the "Young Man of the Year" by the Salem Jaycees.
In 1958, Mr. Thornton returned again to the College as the director of development and was named vice president in 1965. He helped to lead the college's capital campaigns, which resulted in the construction of the library, several residence halls, the science center, Antrim Chapel and F.W. Olin Hall for the Fine Arts, which Mr. Thornton once described as his greatest accomplishment. Roanoke obtained more than $20.6 million in gifts during his tenure in the development office.
From 1970 to 1975, Mr. Thornton served as a member of the Virginia State Senate for the 22nd district.
In 1976, he relocated to Massachusetts, where he subsequently was employed by Harvard University as planned giving development officer and ultimately director of planned giving at Harvard Law School.
Mr. Thornton was named to the Virginia State Library Board and the Roanoke College Board of Trustees in 1976. He was a district director and trustee of the American College Public Relations Association and member of the board of directors of the Roanoke Fine Arts Center, the Roanoke Symphony and the Roanoke Rotary Club.
He and his wife, Dimity, were founding members of the Showtimers Community Theatre and he served as president of the theatre's board. He also served on the board of directors of the Provincetown (Massachusetts) Center for Coastal Studies and supported other Cape Cod non-profit organizations.
His community involvement included memberships in the English Speaking Union, the Roanoke Historical Society and the Newcomen Society.
For his outstanding contributions to the College, Mr. Thornton received the Roanoke College Medal in 1993.
David F. Thornton received the Roanoke College Medal in 1993.