By RAY QUIROGA
South Padre Parade
When I was first asked to take the helm of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press and the South Padre Parade, I agreed to do so under one condition – that this institution’s longtime sales director, Matt Thornton, accept promotion to general manager.
I had admired Matt for several years leading to our partnership. Although only five years separate us in age, by the time I joined the company in 1998, Matt already had several years of newspapering experience under his belt, and he was well established and well liked within the company. In my eyes, in those early days, Matt took on a persona of a cool older brother or that of the cool senior you admired as a high school freshman.
Matt’s contagious laugh, brilliant smile and boyish lust for life illuminated every room he entered and virtually every soul he encountered. That charisma, accompanied with natural business sense, made him a formidable salesperson for our publications. Magic and Kareem, Ben and Jerry, Simon and Garfunkel, Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan; by the time we shared an office, I felt our pairing was a match made in publishing heaven.
Matt possessed skills, talents and even a point of view that I didn’t. In many ways, we were opposites, which I viewed as something positive. Where I’m introverted, Matt was extroverted, where I’ve been dubbed a control freak by my own children, Matt flew by the seat of his pants. Where my politics tend to lean left of center, he was a staunch conservative. And while Matt found humor at my inability to catch a fish to save my life, he was a renowned hunter and all around outdoorsman.
But amid all the differences, we shared many similarities including the fact that both our boys were born on the exact same day and year. Professionally, we were both dedicated to bringing our readers the best products possible, even if our philosophies to meet that objective differed.
Matt left the business in 2011 but not before having a lasting impact on our publications, especially the South Padre Parade. And the day he walked away from the business, he left his space at the office pretty much intact, leaving me with the feeling that he would one day return, this time to stay.
When I first heard that Matt was hospitalized, I refused to accept the facts. “Surely folks are exaggerating,” I thought. “I’ll wrap-up the work day and give him a call on his cell,” I further told myself.
My internal alarms began to ring when there was no answer to those calls. That night, I found it difficult to sleep, and I awoke Friday morning to the sounds of my cellphone; the voices and texts at the other end confirmed the worst, Matt had died. He was only 43 years old.
I forced myself to go to the office that day only to find it impossible to focus on work as memories of Matt seem to beam from every corner of the building. This week hasn’t been much easier as shock has given way to the reality of his passing.
While I knew the outpouring would be great (to call Matt popular around these parts would be a severe understatement), I’m still amazed by the number of people who knew, cared about and were touched by him.
Son, brother, uncle, friend, colleague, sportsman, high school athlete, classmate and all around fun-loving guy with a big heart: Matt held many titles and was many things to many people, but the title he cherished the most was that of father to his son Wyatt.
There are many memories I’ll always cherish of Matt, but none more touching than those regarding his son. There was Matt the father, the guy who wasn’t shy about disciplining Wyatt. But many who knew Matt knew the eternal child that dwelled within him. That part of Matt forged a special bond with his son that went beyond the typical father-son relationship; it was that of best friends whose similarities went much deeper than just their similar physical qualities.
Reflecting back on our last conversation, he looked better than ever and was equally upbeat that day. Oddly, though, it was he who found the need to lecture me on the importance of life and love. He left me with more words of wisdom, a hug, and a “Take care, Dawg,” which was Matt’s signature salutation. In the end, I’m a much better person for having known Matthew Gregory Thornton, and I thank God for giving me the experience.
And to you, Matt, I say, “Take care, Dawg. I’ll see you on the other side.”