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William "Bill" Clarence Thorton

November 5, 2019
William "Bill" Clarence Thorton
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Obituary for William "Bill" Clarence Thorton

William “Bill” Clarence Thornton, father, attorney, pilot, part-time cowboy, corny joke-teller, and mentor to many, had his final flight on Tuesday, November 5th, 2019 after gracefully charting his course with Parkinson’s Disease for over twenty years. Bill died peacefully at home in hospice care surrounded by loved ones.

He is survived by his sister, Joyce McCarty, two sons Dan and Bret, and four grandchildren Mick, Katherine, Stella, and Sean.

Bill, a 4th generation Nevadan, was born in 1934 in Reno, NV to Clarence and Jeanne Thornton. Bill's family ties to Nevada ran deep as his pioneer great grandfather, Grove Holcomb settled in the Washoe area in 1869 when he purchased 160 acres of grazing land. The Holcomb family home and barn still stands on Holcomb Ranch Lane today. Bill was a graduate of Reno High School, where he was the class Vice President and also played basketball, football, track, and skiing/ski jumping when his team won the American Ski Championship in Sun Valley, Idaho. He had a life-long love for skiing and the mountains that he shared with his sons. In 1955, Bill attended the U.S. Air Force Flight School. Bill flew several different types of jets while in the USAF. He later earned the nickname "Crash Thornton” when a F-86 Sabre jet he piloted, which was heavy with fuel and ammunition, encountered wake turbulence and he landed just short of the runway. Bill retired as a Lt. Col. after serving a total of 24 years in the USAF and the Nevada Air National Guard and and was awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal for his service. Bill went on to earn his Bachelor's degree from the University of Nevada, Reno and then to law school at the University of Arizona. In 1959, Bill married Barbara Cavanaugh and the couple moved to Washington DC until 1961 while Bill completed his law degree at George Washington University Law School. Bill was admitted to practice in the State of Nevada, before the United States Supreme Court, the United States District Court and the United States Tax Court. He held a private practice in Reno since 1961 and always found time to mentor many a young attorney.

Bill and Barbara were part owners of the Club Cal Neva and Reno Turf Club, where Bill remained active on the Board of Directors until it was sold in 2012. Much of Bill's success in business can be attributed to his unique ability to think outside the box. He combined both creativity and innovation with his legal expertise as he immersed himself in a wide range of projects. He was a Partner in The Comstock Hotel & Casino the former hotel and casino (now home to the Residences at Riverwalk Towers), Donner Lake Village Resort, Donner Lake, California; Owner, Meadow Wood Courtyard and Sage Creek Grill & Taproom, Reno; shareholder in the Malt Mill Partnership, Silver Peak Restaurant, Reno; Partner in Adams & Associates, a Job-Corp management firm, Reno; former owner of the Reno-Tahoe Visitors Center, Reno Ticket Station, and Reno-Tahoe Gaming Academy, among many other business endeavors.

Bill was a tireless advocate for Reno and Nevada. Through his understanding of tax funding, Bill pushed for the dedication of a portion of room tax to sustain funding for the arts. This funding has been leveraged by the recipient arts and culture organizations, and their performances and activities attract new businesses and cultural tourism to our area, as well as generating new income back to the City and State to help fund public safety and other community necessities. Bill was also highly admired and respected for his kind acts of philanthropy. The Thornton Family gift of 180 acres of land to UNR and Washoe County added the UNR Block "N" to the treasured San Rafael Park acreage. Bill was proud to be the original sponsor of the Tour de Nez bike race and was affectionately known as the "Grand Marshal."

Bill was one of the founders of the original Downtown Improvement Association. He was instrumental in changing the the aesthetics of downtown Reno. Until his aid in developing the Reno River Walk, the Truckee River was a forgotten waterway. Today, the vitality of the river invites families, tourists and water enthusiasts to enjoy the vistas and cool water. As part of his love for the great outdoors, he was an advocate for Friends of Nevada Wilderness, the Nature Conservancy, and instrumental to the creation of Great Basin National Park.

Bill also served an essential role in bringing arts to the community. Bill was largely responsible for bringing the arts to downtown by building the amphitheater located in Wingfield Park, which has been an essential platform for Artown and has welcomed countless artists throughout the years. He helped to fund the Summer Municipal Band concerts on the UNR Quad and Wingfield Park. The Thornton Family paid for the repair to the Ginsberg clock located at the Reno City Plaza and also supported the installation of the Reno Star, located at South Virginia and South McCarran, as an addition to the City of Reno's Public Art collection.

His extraordinary list of accomplishments include being awarded the 2018 EDAWN Arts and Business Lifetime Achievement Award 1997 Silver Star Award: A Celebration of quality of life in Truckee Meadows by Truckee Meadows Tomorrow and Truckee Meadows Regional Planning Agency; the 1992 Raymond I. Smith Civic Leader of the Year Award; the 1969 Outstanding UNR Alumni Award; 1980 Professional Achievement Award by George Washington University; and the 1981 Promotion Person of the Year by the Reno Advertising Club.

Please join us for a Celebration of Life honoring Bill at The National Automobile Museum (10 South Lake Street, Reno NV.) on Sunday November 24th from 4-7PM. Food, beer and wine will be served.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation in Bill’s honor to the University of Nevada, Reno Thornton Peace Prize Endowment #173504 with checks payable to UNR foundation and mailed to UNR Foundation, MS/0162, Reno, NV 89557. This award, given annually, recognizes an individual or group from the university community who exemplifies by word or deed that use of force is not an acceptable means for settling disputes.

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Previous Events

Memorial Service




4:00 PM 11/24/2019 4:00:00 PM - 7:00 PM 11/24/2019 7:00:00 PM
National Automobile Museum

10 South Lake Street
Reno, Nevada 89501

National Automobile Museum
10 South Lake Street Reno 89501 Nevada
United States

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