William H. “Bill” Thornton, 98, associate professor emeritus of engineering technology at Old Dominion University, died on March 3.
Thornton was a longtime ODU faculty member. After he retired, he worked as an adjunct professor from 1999 to 2016, teaching until the age of 92. He was also an Old Dominion alumnus, having earned an associate degree in applied science in 1947 and a master’s in engineering in 1972.
Thornton was an academic mentor to John Hackworth, an associate professor emeritus of engineering technology who first encountered Thornton as a student. “Bill had the unique ability to blend the math, theory and practical applications together so that it made perfect sense,” Hackworth said.
After Hackworth graduated, he worked for General Electric and returned to ODU as a faculty member. “I wanted to teach the way Bill did,” Hackworth said, “and he coached me on it.”
Steve Hsiung, professor of electrical engineering technology, said, “I talked to him in the lab or the office almost every week. He had a lot of practical experience and hands-on knowledge. He was a fantastic teacher, and students liked him.”
Thornton was especially adept at teaching students the art of troubleshooting, Hsiung said. “The job market requires two major things: teamwork skills and troubleshooting. If you don’t have experience in troubleshooting, it’s hard to solve the problem. It takes effort for teachers to cover the territory.”
Moustafa Moustafa, an associate professor of engineering technology, said, “He had a great sense of humor and was a very fine person.” They would go to lunch daily, and “we used to joke together and have fun. He was great company, and we miss him a lot.”
Hackworth also noted Thornton’s deadpan humor: “He would make a statement (while keeping a poker face). At first, it would go completely past you and then sneak up on you later.”
Thornton served in the Coast Guard during World War II. He also was an avid camper and square dancer. Hsiung recalled him dancing at every holiday party.
His first wife, Judy Jordan, died in 2001. Thornton married Nancy MacCormack in 2005. She survives him, along with his daughter, Cheryl Riggins (and her husband, Mason); his son, Bruce Thornton; his stepdaughters, Ellen Golliher (and her husband, Casey), Amy MacCormack and Mimsy Taylor; his stepson, Bart MacCormack; 10 grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.