By all accounts, Saugerties lost one of its most cherished souls when David “Scout” Thornton died on April 1. He was a longtime resident, prominent in the tourism industry, and a consummate humanitarian.
In reading and hearing stories about Scout as they’ve emerged, he is often spoken about with an aura of reverence. Everyone interviewed told the same story: He was a proud family man who was bitingly clever but rarely sarcastic and always funny. The smile never disappeared from his face. The party never stopped.
What could account for such a disposition? One clue might be found in this story: Enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967, Scout was en route to fight in Vietnam early in 1968. However, the plane was grounded in the state of Washington, because the USS Pueblo had just been captured by North Korea. Considering different responses, Lyndon B. Johnson redirected the soldiers to the 38th Parallel in Korea, where Scout served out his duties as sergeant. In Vietnam, one week later, the Tet Offensive began and over the course of the next year, nearly 17,000 U.S. soldiers died.
He hadn’t known at the time, but he’d begun his career in tourism before he enlisted in the Army, working at tourist information centers on the New York State Thruway while in high school. It was about this time that he also adopted the nickname “Scout,” the name most knew him by, as he was apparently adept at assessing agreeable atmospheres. (Or in the parlance of a friend, “We sent him into bars to see if there were girls in there.”) Later on, “Scout” became “Good-Time Scout.”
When he returned from military service, he teamed up with childhood friend Charles Daley Jr. to start a business. In 1979, they formed Destinations of New York State, a marketing company with the mission of “Bringing New York tourism suppliers together with domestic and international buyers of the tourism product.” Beyond that, they developed Henry Hudson Tours, Thruway Travel, the New York State Golf Tour Guide, New York State Vacation Planner and countless other guides, programs, fundraisers, and scholarships committed to the tourism industry.
Scout was well-known for his skills as an auctioneer and master of ceremonies. In that capacity, he was famous at the American Bus Association Annual Marketplace Auction. In his town, he was famous for this at nearly every charity and celebratory event, including the Fourth of July parade, the Sawyer Motors car shows, the St. Mary’s Bazaar and the Hudson Valley Garlic Festival. He helped my family in our time of need – something I fathom many Saugertiesians can say.
Scout was a golfer, Civil War buff, polymath, comedian, traveler, brother, husband, father, mentor, listener, organizer, leader and visionary. He was a special person — a fun-loving altruist — and as I talked to people, he was remembered with many tears, but in the future, he will be remembered with great joy.