James Thornton: A Splendid Life
I received this email a couple of weeks ago.
FROM: Anthony Green
TO: Denny Hatch
DATE: June 17, 2014
I am sure you encountered James Thornton of MLA [Mailing Lists Asia] Hong Kong at various DMA events over the years. He certainly remembers you.
James died of cancer a couple of weeks ago. I read the eulogy at his funeral here in Manila where I live. I am not sure if Target Marketing likes to mention such depressing events but if you wanted to I attach a copy of the eulogy I read out at James's funeral.
All the best.
A Eulogy For James Thornton (1940-2014)
Delivered by Anthony Green at the funeral of James Thornton on May 28, 2014.
We’re here today to say farewell to an amazing individual. A complete eccentric and a perfect English gentleman. A man who has inspired and influenced, in one way or another, most of the people in this room. When I visited James last Friday at Makati Med his doctor, who had looked after him for the last six years, called him a brilliant man and a genius. I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment. For James achieved much in his lifetime and was still giving everything he had right up until the last few days when his life was cruelly and painfully taken away by cancer.
James was what I would call a serial entrepreneur. He lived for his businesses. He was an ideas man who was continually pushing the boundaries of convention and looking for new ideas. His business interests were wide and varied. Some might say too wide and too varied. From property portfolios in Bali to Alpaca farms in Chile to hotels in Philippines to direct marketing agencies in Hong Kong and India to astrological newsletters, investment newsletters, list broking, selling luxury luggage, developing innovative healthcare products, and a state-of-the-art biotech company.
He was not the sort of man to say no to proposals. If someone came to him with a plan to start a crocodile farm he would probably have gone for it!
And for James it was the element of excitement and challenge that inspired him rather than the idea of making money. He was never interested in the trappings of wealth. He simply wanted to enjoy life and start businesses that would be fun. And that involved gathering like-minded individuals around him, many of whom are in this room today, and inspiring them to jump onboard and work with him.
Where did all this start? Anybody meeting James for the first time would be struck by his imposing stature. By his mannerisms, his voice, his posture, and above all, by his good looks. He had a philosophical, open, honest, face. He attracted people. He was a man you could trust. He was a man you could do business with. And he was a man who commanded respect, and he got that respect.
James went to one of the great public schools of England, Shrewsbury, founded before the reign of Henry the eighth. My own son went to the same school and that has given me an insight into what made James the man he was. Shrewsbury manufactures English gentlemen and eccentrics — who are driven to success. And James is a perfect example. On one visit to the school I thought I’d sneak into the house where James used to live and see what he looked like as a 15-year-old boy.
On the walls were row after row of faded photographs. Eventually I found him. Back row, second from the left. A gangly youth standing next to a boy who was to become deputy prime minister of England, and another boy who was to become a world famous TV celebrity and next to him another boy who was to became a famous political activist.
He was surrounded by success. By boys who were later to become hugely famous in the UK. It should therefore be no surprise that James, too, made his mark in all the areas of business he touched.
After leaving school at the age of 15 in the mid 50’s James went on to become a journalist, then editor of a magazine called Export Times. This job took him to Hong Kong — and he never looked back. He abandoned England, fell in love with Hong Kong and stayed there.
A few years later, he was making frequent business trips to Manila and fell in love with the Philippines too. He grew to dislike Hong Kong and was happy to move to Manila where the attitude to life and the climate suited his philosophical outlook.
I first met James in 1990. I went to Hong Kong to set up a direct marketing company.
I asked a leading figure in the business in the UK if he could introduce me to someone in Hong Kong. I was told, “There’s only one man you need to meet — James Thornton — Mr. Direct Marketing SE Asia.”
I remember meeting him for the first time. He was on the phone. He waved me into his office. The conversation went on for ages so I decided to take a look at his bookshelf. I was expecting to see books about marketing and advertising. But instead it was crammed with books about the occult, books about flying saucers, books about Hinduism, Buddhism, reincarnation, aliens, yoga, meditation, astrology, a whole range of whacko subjects. I was quite taken aback but thought, I’m probably going to get on with this guy!
And we did. I liked James the first time I met him. He must have felt likewise because by the end of the meal he invited me to share his office in Hong Kong — and so started a life-long friendship — which came to an abrupt end last Sunday.
And there are many similar stories of chance meetings with James that have changed people’s lives. There are many in this room, myself included, who would not be living here in Manila if it weren’t for James. Because we all liked him for who he was. Open, honest, fun, generous, interesting, sociable. And we all wanted to follow him and spend time in his company.
James went on to become a leading figure in the world of Direct Marketing. One commentator called him “a legend, a pioneer, an educator — and one hell of a gentleman”.
He was a highly sought-after speaker at conferences in the US. He was a good speaker. I’ve seen him charm audiences of thousands of delegates. His achievements in this field were officially recognized a few years ago when he received the 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from International Council of the Direct Marketing Association.
“For which of your particular achievements are you being recognized”, I teased him. He just smiled. The award meant a lot to him. It was a fitting recognition of the immense contribution he made in the field of direct marketing. He will be greatly missed by the dozens of good friends he made in this business in the US and around the world.
In more recent years, in his quest for new challenges, James has focused his energies on the healthcare industry developing a number of innovative new products, some of which are in daily use today, in this country and overseas. He always saw his work and investments in this field as purely philanthropic - as if he wanted to give something back to society. Alas, many of these have required long-term commitments and they remain one of his few unfulfilled ambitions.
I have often thought that if fate had not turned James into a Direct Marketing guru, he would simple have become a guru, I mean a religious guru. For James had a very strong spiritual side to him, not Christian but mystical and was very well read on the subject. That’s what made meetings with him so fascinating as the conversation could turn in a few moments from global postage rates to transcendental meditation.
To know James was a privilege. In some ways he was from another age. A chivalrous age. An age where people kept their word. People turned up on time. People behaved decently towards each other. The world now is different and James’s open, sometimes innocent approach to life has not always reciprocated by those he dealt with.
We are now left with just our memories of him. But these will be etched in our minds forever. Because he was an unforgettable man. I’m proud that I could call him my friend.
James, you will be sorely missed, but you will never be forgotten.
Addendum by Anthony Green
Shrewsbury School produced a bevy of interesting young men who lived in the same house as James and graduated the same year:
1. The Deputy Prime Minister I mentioned was Michael Heseltine. He masterminded a coup to oust Margaret Thatcher from office. It nearly succeeded. His reward was to be appointed duty PM in the next conservative government run by John Major. He started Haymarket Media — a hugely successful trade publishing house.
2. The TV celebrity was Michael Palin of Monty Python fame, and maker of TV travel documentaries. He was James's "fag," a British public school custom where younger boys perform menial tasks for older boys. They were not usually well treated. The custom died out about 20 years ago.
3. The political activist was Paul Foot.
4. Three other friends in the same year were Richard Ingrams, Willie Rushton and Christopher Booker who went on to launch the influential satirical magazine Private Eye.
A little know fact that James rarely mentioned was that during WWII his father—Lt. Cmdr. Mark Thornton, R.N., HMS Petard—was the commander of the British navy destroyer that captured the German U-boat carrying an Enigma code machine. After this the Brits were sinking U-boats faster than the Hun could make them. The event has been credited with shortening WWII by a couple of years.
Denny Hatch 's new book is Write Everything Right! Mark Pilipczuk writes, "First, get a fresh highlighter ... you'll need it. This book is chock full of proven techniques to improve your writing today. Denny Hatch's prose is economical and packed with energy. Every word matters and the layout is designed to keep you reading and thinking. You'll dog-ear your copy and fill it with scribbled marginal notes—just as I did. Will Denny make you a better writer? I'm willing to bet he will, and I bet the future of my family on it. I just purchased two more copies for my kids (16 and 12 years old), because I KNOW they'll do better in college after learning from Denny." Click here to download (opens as a PDF) and read the first three chapters FREE. The title is also available on Kindle. Reach Denny at firstname.lastname@example.org.