Curtiss Manford Thornton went to glory on Sept. 13, 2023. He was a musician, a singer, a sailor, a fisherman, a golfer, a Cincinnati Reds fan, a Virginia Cavaliers fan and a hardworking man who loved to laugh and to make other people laugh. Most of all, he was a devoted and loving husband, son, brother, father, grandfather and great grandfather. He was born in what’s now The Farmhouse restaurant in Christiansburg on Dec. 4, 1939. He was the fifth of seven children of James Frank Thornton and Minnie Myrtle Hollandsworth Thornton. His sister Carmel is the last surviving sibling. Curtiss played with the Alleghany District High School basketball team that went to the state championship, but he wasn’t there at the end. He enlisted in the Navy from 1958 until 1962, where he was a radioman and petty officer with a beach jumper unit. Beach jumpers were the guys who tried to draw enemy fire while the main attack landed somewhere else. Curtiss liked to tell stories about those times, like the time he was with three rubber boats heading into shore during a training exercise. The boats were tied together, tethered to balloons, trying to present a large presence on radar. The lieutenant in charge of the exercise stretched the boats so far apart that Curtiss thought the lines might snap – something that could decapitate crew members. When the lieutenant wouldn’t stop it, Curtiss told the radiomen in the other boats to pass all the lieutenant’s orders through him before executing them. They did and because of this, the unit completed the exercise successfully. When they returned to the ship, the captain commended them for their good work, but told Curtiss that the next time he committed mutiny, he shouldn’t do it on an open and monitored radio frequency.
While he was in the Navy, he married Barbara Anne Graham. (They were both delivered by doctors who couldn’t spell well, apparently. Her middle name was supposed be Ann. His was supposed to be Manfred and Curtis with one s.) They had two children, Tim and Pam. Tim and his wife Juanita had two children, Maggie (who married Nathan Reeder) and Matthew. Pam and her husband, Tim Linkous, had Hillary (who married Joey Leech), Ethan, Seth and Abby. So far, those grandchildren have produced seven great grandchildren, with another on the way.
He loved to travel, driving all over the country with his in-laws, other relatives, friends, Barbara and the kids. Curtiss loved camping. After retiring from Kroger, he got a job delivering campers. His most epic delivery may have been taking a bus-sized camper to Arizona and driving the bus-sized trade-in back to Virginia. The return trip became a rambling vacation for Curtiss and Barbara and their friends Joe and Mary Havens.
Sometimes Curtiss camped at fiddlers’ conventions. He was famous in some circles for timing his drive by the gate at Galax so well that he was the first camper allowed inside – jumping ahead of some folks who’d parked on the street days before. He’s famous in those same circles for mistiming his arrival by two minutes the next year and ending up at the back of the line. He won two ribbons playing Dobro at Galax, which bills itself as the world’s oldest and largest fiddlers’ convention. His best finish was fourth in 1997. In 2000, he was ninth.
Curtiss began playing music when he was in high school. He came in second in a singing contest, but the band running the contest – Don Reno and Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups – invited him to play and sing on their Roanoke-based television show, which he did about half a dozen times. He played with a lot of folks and a lot of bands over the years, including the Star Mountain Boys, Fort Vause and – with his son and granddaughter – the Ephraim Vause Memorial String Band. A big Hank Williams fan, he played and sang a lot of Williams’ songs. He once brought a rowdy Blacksburg house party crowd to tearful silence with his version of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Curtiss spent a lot of time cheering on his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren in all sorts of sports. When he got too sick to go to games, Pam FaceTimed with him from ballfields so he could still watch the games. He coached his children’s and grandchildren’s teams. When he moved back to Montgomery County, there was no youth baseball program in the eastern part of the county, so he started one.
When he saw a problem, he fixed it. When someone needed help, he helped them. We don’t know what we’ll do without him.
The family will receive friends at Lotz Funeral Home in Salem on Friday, September 15, 2023 from 6:00 until 8:00 pm.
A graveside service with military honors will be held in Sherwood Memorial Park on Saturday, September 16, 2023 at 11:00 am.
In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be made to Dale’s Place Food Pantry in Elliston, VA or Eastmont Community Foundation in Shawsville, VA.