It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of our partner, mentor, and friend W. Gerald Thornton.
For over 50 years, Gerald established himself as one of the preeminent business, tax and estate planning lawyers in North Carolina. Gerald’s legal skills were formidable. When addressing complex issues, he had the well-developed ability with laser intensity to focus on the relevant issues helping his clients achieve their objectives with uncommon efficiency.
For over 40 years, Gerald served as outside general counsel to General Parts until its acquisition by Advance Auto Parts for over $2 billion dollars. General Parts was the largest member of the CARQUEST network. North Carolina business titan and General Parts founder, O. Temple Sloan, Jr. once said “Over a 40-year timeframe, Gerald’s legal advice, counsel, and guidance were critical to our company’s success. His actions and advice always illustrated his high ethical standards, ensuring that we always protected the company’s reputation, which enabled us to earn the trust of our customers and industry peers.”
Mr. Sloan continued “Gerald steered GPI through over 200 acquisitions; the complexity of an ESOP (with over 10,000 members). . . and the complications of being a privately-held company with thousands of shareholders. . . All of this for over 40 years and GPI was never involved in a lawsuit with its ESOP or shareholders.” This is just one example of what Gerald helped his clients achieve.
In his estate planning practice, Gerald often served as the Rock of Gibraltar to many a client—great and small—dealing with the sensitive issues associated with their family planning. Clients relied on Gerald’s counsel and integrity as they navigated sensitive family situations.
He zealously advanced his clients’ interest. His clients knew they could rely on his sound judgment without question as to Gerald’s allegiances. As members of his team, he was able to mobilize us to consistently advance our clients’ interests.
Perhaps Gerald’s life is best described by some of his clients who also became his friends:
- O. Temple Sloan, Jr. “I have known many attorneys and business executives in my long career, but I have never met anyone with more integrity, high standards, professionalism and loyalty than Gerald Thornton.”
- Tom Blanchard, III. “In every meeting that I ever attended with Gerald, his presence elevates the performance level of each participant. He consistently demonstrates an outstanding degree of professionalism, high ethical standards, and solid character. His advice has consistently given me confidence in my work endeavors. I hope his influence shows not only in my work but more importantly in my life.”
- Jeffrey B. Mims. “I observed Gerald during Board meetings soaking up everyone’s comments. He would wait to speak at the end with his mature expertise and wisdom. My business associates on many occasions would say, “What would Gerald say?” Gerald provided us with not only legal advice, but excellent insight and personal advice. . . Gerald’s kindness and generosity is exemplary. His big handshake, smile, and attentiveness made you feel like he is someone listening who really cares about what you are saying.”
Not only did Gerald’s clients look to his sage counsel and leadership, but so did his firm, the bar, and his community. For over 20 years Gerald served as Manning Fulton’s managing partner and head of its business practice. As such, the firm benefited from his steady hand as the firm grew and matured maintaining its commitment to excellence taught in no small measure by his example. What began as a one-man tax practice is now one of the largest corporate law practices in Eastern North Carolina with over 20 attorneys.
Gerald’s skills as a practitioner have been routinely recognized by his peers including his election as a Fellow in both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and American College of Tax Counsel among other accolades.
In addition to his law practice and firm leadership responsibilities, somehow Gerald found the time to provide leadership to the profession as his senior partners had done before him. Gerald is one of the few Chairs of the North Carolina Bar Association Tax Section who served for 2 terms. Additionally, he was a regular speaker at continuing education programs and served for decades on the advisory board for the UNC Law School’s Annual Tax Institute developing the next generation of tax attorneys. In 1985, he served as Chairman for the Bar Center Steering Committee where he led the efforts to build the current Bar Center where thousands of lawyers have received continuing education training. Once constructed, he went on to serve another 8 years on the Bar Center Building Committee including a 4-year term as Chairman as well as served for 4 years on the Bar Association’s Board of Governors. He instilled in each of the junior attorneys on his team a commitment to bar service with 6 of those attorneys having gone on to serve as chairs of the Tax, Estate Planning, or Business Law Sections of the North Carolina Bar Association.
While developing a thriving legal practice and serving his profession, Gerald served as a lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Church”). For over 20 years, his leadership responsibilities included being a spiritual leader to thousands of parishioners and working to administer the temporal needs of the Church from building chapels to creating new congregations.
These professional and civic accomplishments only tell us part of the story as Gerald believed “no success can compensate for failure in the home.” Gerald’s 60-year marriage to his wonderful wife Katrina and the outstanding citizens each of their 5 children have become are the greatest measure of the man.
Manning Fulton celebrates the life of W. Gerald Thornton and remains grateful for our 53-year association with him.
His obituary can be found at this link: https://www.brightfunerals.com/tributes/William-Gerald-ThorntonSr