Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Everynight when I come home from work, I put dinner in the oven and
then read my email while I wait.Tonight's email brought the sad news
from Dorene Paul that our fellow geneablogger Terry Thornton has
passed away.

While I was saddened, I have to admit I had been expecting this ever
since Terry posted the video of the bagpiper playing "Amazing Grace"
next to Terry's gravestone. I don't know if he'd already been given a
terminal diagnosis or if Terry suspected he was "near his time". I do
know he'd been in pain and was using medication for it, even though
he didn't seem happy about it:

"I can now control the pain by making myself enter a drugged 
state.  And it is not a state of ecstasy."

I  would guess that Terry didn't care for having his mental processes
dulled along with his pain.

Terry was one of the geneabloggers who befriended me when I started
blogging. It was a smaller community back then and we exchanged
emails about a commemorative plate he'd found with a New England
connection. We shared an interest in poetry and we both ran memes
on our blogs that explored the connections between poetry and
genealogy. Terry also had a humorous side which he displayed
sometimes under the alias "Willy Puckerbrush" in posts on Janice
Brown's now defunct "Cow Hampshire" blog.

But when I think of Terry, the word that comes to mind is
"passionate" because that is what he was about the things he believed
in, whether it was free speech or genealogy. Back in January, he
wrote the following in his introduction to Robert Graves' poem "To
Bring the Dead to Life" on his Hill Country HOGS Blog and it serves
as an inspiration to me in writing about my family history:

"Those of us who spend part of our efforts writing about individual 
ancestors long ago dead know the difficulty of accurately telling 
their story. Much of recorded family history is just a listing of who 
begat whom, when and where, and where and when they all were 
buried ---but we all know on occasion some writers can bring the 
dead to life as those gifted writers produce accounts to show, 
indeed, that Graves is correct --- that to blow on a dead man's 
embers can ignite a live flame and from that ignition ancestral 
story becomes alive. Certainly those of us writing in this field 
should attempt to ignite those embers --- but that task is much 
more difficult than merely describing the process.

That is why I've selected Graves' poem, To Bring The Dead To Life

as the poem to start the new year. I think his words, especially those 
of the first five lines, should be a challenge and an ideal. As I 
continue my puny attempts to bring life to the family and local 
history I'm recording, I certainly will keep Graves' words in mind. 
And I invite you to accept this as a challenge in your family history 
writing for 2010 --- to bring the dead to life by using words to fan 
the embers of those long dead bones and let the resulting flame 
illuminate their life and times."

Rest in peace, Terry. You will be missed.


Jasia said...

I was very surprised to learn of Terry's death. I didn't even know he was ailing. I guess I'm kidding myself in thinking that I'm keeping up with the genea-blogging world. What was the "Terry's stone" you referenced? Was that on his blog and I missed it?

Terry and I had our differences of opinion but I always considered him my friend. Even when he publicly expressed unpopular opinions. I'll miss him.

You wrote a very nice tribute, Bill. God bless Terry.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Oh, my goodness. Certainly sorry to hear this.

I agree with Jasia: You have written a fine tribute.

Greta Koehl said...

This is a wonderful tribute, Bill. I still can't believe he is gone, though I knew he was quite ill.

Bill West said...

Terry already had a gravestite with a marker for him and his wife. While attending a funeral there earlier this summer, he heard a bagpiper play
"Amazing Grace" and asked her to play it by his stone. He taped the
performance and posted it to his blog.