Stephen “Steve” Foster Thornton

by Lynn McMillen
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Stephen “Steve” Foster Thornton, 84, passed away May 5, 2024, in Huntsville, Ala. He was the son of the late V.A. “Doc” Thornton and Wilma C. Thornton.

Steve was born and raised in Rogersville, Ala., where he graduated from Lauderdale County High School in 1958. He attended the University of Montevallo and transferred to Auburn University. He graduated from Auburn University with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering in 1963.

Steve took his first job at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., as a site manager in electronic counter-countermeasures. During those three years, he monitored radar jammers on B-52’s, which allowed U.S. aircraft to fly undetected in enemy territory during the Vietnam War.

He then went to work for Boeing in Cape Canaveral, Fla., becoming part of the launch team for the Apollo Missions 7 through 11. To recognize his work in solving a critical kerosene leak, Steve earned a special NASA Zero Defects Award, recognizing engineering excellence. Even in his later years, he said that his contribution to the Apollo moon landing missions was the most exciting time of his career.

After moving his family to Huntsville, Ala., he joined SCI as a Test Engineer. Steve quickly advanced within the company, becoming vice president of the company’s military communications products division before his departure.

In 1983, Steve joined the Board of Directors of a local 2-person start-up, Cybex Corporation. One year later, he became President and CEO, leading the company through an almost 20-year period of tremendous growth. Steve led the company in going public in 1995, establishing a European headquarters in Shannon, Ireland, and merging with an industry rival to form Avocent Corporation in 2001. During Steve’s leadership, Avocent became an international leader in network management equipment, switching, and remote access solutions with a loyal customer base that included some of the world’s largest technology companies, retailers, and financial institutions. Among his many achievements and awards with the company, his most notable were Entrepreneur of the Year (Southeast Division) by Ernst and Young in 1999 and induction to the State of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame in 2001.

Since childhood, he enjoyed fishing in the slews, rivers, and lakes of North Alabama. While living in Florida, he enjoyed saltwater fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. He began golfing during his career to meet with coworkers and clients and eventually, he had a weekly tee-time with the same group of friends for many years. If he wasn’t watching golf, he was watching CNBC, FOX News, or listening to Rush Limbaugh, but his favorite was watching Auburn Football.

He was preceded in death by his wife of 45 years, Judy Thornton and his sister, Landa Ellsworth. He is survived by his son, Derek Thornton (Elenore); daughter, Bridgette Jordan (Anthony); grandchildren, Payton (Adam), Griffin (Sydnie), Grant, Nate, Pierce, Josie, and Eleanor.

Visitation will be held at Laughlin Service Funeral Home on Friday, May 17, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A private interment service will be held at Maple Hill Cemetery in Huntsville.

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