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NATCA Mourns the Loss of John Thornton, Founding Father of Union - (11/5/2013)

CONTACT: Sarah Dunn, 315-796-1560

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association today mourns the loss of John F. Thornton, a gifted and influential leader and organizer whose passion for representing the interests of the nation’s air traffic controllers began with the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO), and continued as a national organizer and founding father of NATCA. Mr. Thornton passed away on Nov. 3.

“NATCA is profoundly saddened at the loss of one of the union’s founding fathers,” said NATCA President Paul Rinaldi. “He gave this union the foundation off of which to build, and he set the tone that NATCA was a different union with different goals. Without John Thornton, NATCA may never have existed. We extend our deepest condolences to his family and friends. He will never be forgotten.”

Thornton first served the country as an air traffic controller in the United States Air Force in 1965. In 1973, he transferred to civilian air traffic control at then Washington National Tower/Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON; DCA). He was still in training at DCA when he was elected the facility representative for PATCO. In 1981, Thornton walked out during the air traffic controllers’ strike, hoping to gain better and safer working conditions in a profession where many of his colleagues retired on medical disability.

Thornton was among the handful of controllers who were arrested on felony charges of striking against the government; he served 10 days in the Fairfax County, Va., jail. Two years later, air traffic controllers looking to organize a new union sought Thornton’s help. Despite the pain and damage of the walkout, Thornton overcame his emotions and accepted the offer, immersing himself in a nationwide effort that culminated with a new union with new goals - NATCA.

“John paid the ultimate sacrifice in 1981 so he could better the profession and workplace for future generations of air traffic controllers,” said NATCA Executive Vice President Trish Gilbert. “He used his past to help us build a better future. It is leaders like him that set the bar for us, instilling in us to never give up and always strive for improvement. He is forever cemented in this union’s memory.”

After its certification, Thornton was appointed as NATCA’s senior director of legislative affairs, a position he served in for seven years. Though Thornton left the union in 1995, he was bestowed with an honorary lifetime membership in appreciation of his contributions to the union.

“John was probably the most tireless of advocates on our behalf, pushing one person at a time to build this great union that we know as NATCA,” said NATCA Executive Director and President Emeritus Barry Krasner. “John Thornton was the founding father of this union and has touched the lives of all we have represented from that time forward. You will be missed my brother. Rest in peace.”


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