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Tulsa auto dealership owner Don Thornton dies at 87
Don Thornton | 1933-2021

Tulsa auto dealership owner Don Thornton dies at 87

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Longtime Tulsa auto dealer Don Thornton died Friday. He was 87.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Asbury United Methodist Church.

Moore’s Southlawn Funeral Home is handling arrangements.

The service may be viewed live at asburytulsa.org/events/live.

Thornton, who had been selling cars in Tulsa for more than 50 years, founded Don Thornton Auto Group, which includes Lexus of Tulsa, Don Thornton Cadillac, Don Thornton Volkswagen, Audi Tulsa and other dealerships.

A North Carolina native and former Air Force pilot, Thornton established himself as a top Ford sales manager in Dallas before moving to Tulsa in 1968 to partner in a dealership.

In 1971, he bought a Ford dealership at Admiral Place and Mingo Road, then built a new facility in 1986 at Memorial Drive and Interstate 244.

After 27 years, Don Thornton Ford merged into United Ford in 1998, and he sold the business.

Thornton retired briefly but soon was back.

While rival dealers followed the trends and moved farther south, Thornton staked his claim in an older area, buying Lexus and Land Rover dealerships at 41st Street and Memorial Drive.

He later added Don Thornton Cadillac and Tulsa’s first stand-alone Audi dealership.

In a 2016 interview with the Tulsa World, Thornton said perhaps the most rewarding part of his work was the impact he had on young car sellers, adding that he mentored several who went on to become dealers themselves.

“I am a dumb Southerner from North Carolina who wasn’t that smart. But I had a lot of mentors who helped me,” he said. “With the right training, you take someone who has never flown an aircraft and make him a pilot.”

To sell cars for him, one quality was indispensable: “Do they care about people? If you are just in it for the dollar, we can sense that.”

Thornton added, “To take a guy who hasn’t sold cars and see him grow and develop and see how his family reacts as he does more for his family. That is what makes me feel incredible.”

Thornton was a leader in his industry and was past chairman of the Oklahoma Motor Vehicle Commission and Oklahoma Automobile Dealers Association.

He also gave his time to the community, serving on the Hillcrest Medical Center board for almost 40 years, as well as on the boards of the former Children’s Medical Center, the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, and Tandy Family YMCA. He was an active supporter with his wife of the Cystic Fibrosis and Make-A-Wish Foundations.

Survivors include his wife of 65 years, Barbara Thornton; three daughters, Cathy Atchley, Laura Bloomfield and Sandi Litzinger; eight grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a brother, Michael Thornton.

Memorial donations may be made to the Better Together building campaign at Asbury United Methodist Church or a charity of choice.

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