Weldon E. Thornton
The following obituary was created by Dr. Thorton’s family and published on the Cremation Society of the Carolinas website.
“Professor Weldon E. Thornton left this earth on July 15, 2021 after a long illness. He is survived by his wife of sixty five years, Barbara Holton Thornton. He leaves three sons, David Thornton, Clayton Thornton and wife Amy, Stephen Thornton and wife Margaret Grayson. He leaves six grandchildren: Erin Thornton Pearce and husband Nicolas Pearce, Kara Thornton and partner Benjamin Bohlen, Conner Thornton, Braden Thornton, Maggie Thornton, and Buck Thornton. He leaves three great grandchildren: Caroline Pearce, Taylor Pearce, and Wesley Thornton. He was born in Mitchell County Georgia. He is pre-deceased by his parents, Elbert and Maggie Thornton and his brother, Dwight Thornton. Dr. Thornton earned degrees from Mercer University (A.B. 1955 in Chemistry), Emory University (M.A. 1957 in English) and University of Texas (Ph.D 1961 in English).
For forty four years Dr. Thornton was a beloved teacher of literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he held a chaired professorship in the English Department. His primary area of research and publication was Irish and British literature, and he published five books of literary scholarship and numerous articles. He was internationally known for his work on James Joyce. However, he thought of himself first and foremost as a teacher. His favorite course was a Great Books course that he taught to Honors Freshmen from 1961 until his retirement in 2005. He also cherished his role as teacher and mentor for his graduate students, many of whom have gone on to have impressive careers in the U.S and Europe. He received five awards for excellence in teaching, spanning the years 1970 to 2000, when he was given the Board of Governor’s award for Teaching Excellence. He was very active in the South Atlantic Modern Language Association and the American Conference for Irish Studies. As part of his service to the University, he chaired a committee in 1970 to review and recommend revision of the undergraduate curriculum. That curriculum served the university for more than twenty years. He was proud to say that he nominated Seamus Heaney for an honorary degree at UNC before Heaney was a Nobel Prize winner. He also was pleased that he chaired the committee on Honorary degrees the year Doc Watson was nominated.
Weldon Thornton was a man of great energy and curiosity who enjoyed many pursuits. He loved the adventure and education of travel. He shared professional travel opportunities with family, and most summers were spent exploring the U.S. and countries abroad. He was audacious enough to think that he could build a house for his family. In the summer of 1971 he did just that—with the help of his carpenter father and a small crew of family members, including two thirteen- year olds. He also earned the enthusiastic, if sporadic, encouragement and help from students, friends, and strangers. This summer, fifty years later, the family still calls this home. When his sons were teenagers they built another small house. It was an experience he wanted them to have. In 1984 he built the family a vacation home in the North Carolina mountains, which they still enjoy today. He loved working outside, and his mountain land provided him the opportunity to mow his sloping pasture with his tractor and brush cutter. He easily related to people of all walks of life and was readily accepted into the mountain community. He was at work on a book of intellectual history until the infirmities of his illness caused him to lay it aside.
A memorial service was held at Binkley Baptist Church on Sunday August 8 at 2:00 p.m.. In lieu of flowers the family suggests that memorial gifts be given to Binkley Baptist Church or UNC Hospice.”