Generations of Dothan residents will remember Dr. Press Thornton Jr. as their beloved dentist, which by any measure is a worthy tally of a life’s work.
For Dr. Thornton, that professional vocation and a post-retirement stint as a real estate agent could well be footnotes, as he made a positive impact on exponentially more lives on the links.
Dr. Thornton, who died Monday at 91 after a brief illness, served as the face of one of the nation’s most prestigious junior golf tournaments, the Press Thornton Future Masters, held each summer at the Dothan Country Club.
It was Press Thornton Sr. who started the tournament in 1950 to give junior golfers an opportunity to compete. Six years later, the elder Thornton died, as Press Jr. stepped in to operate the tournament, a role in which he continued for more than six decades.
Under his watch, the tournament’s reputation was burnished, drawing junior golfers from all over the nation and throughout the world. Several professional golfers walked the links at the Dothan Country Club in Future Masters competition in their youth, which adds to the tournament’s cachet.
Still Dr. Thornton, his wife Evelyn, and their children, maintained a welcoming, homey feel to the event with their presence during tournament week and encouraging interaction with the players and their families.
Dr. and Mrs. Thornton would greet participants as they arrived, and throughout the tournament, Dr. Thornton would offer encouragement to young players, particularly when they’d make a frustrating shot.
Dr. Thornton’s legacy extends far beyond the dentist’s chair; he’ll be remembered fondly by golfers past and present who’ve been touched by his kindness and respect through a mutual love of game and the metaphysical exercise it provides — a calm grace in both savoring victory and releasing disappointment.