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Donald Allen Thurston, 79, of Clarksburg, Ma. died Tuesday October 6, 2009 at Berkshire Medical Center of complications from Parkinson’s Disease. He was born in Gloucester, Ma. on April 2, 1930, son of the late Joseph and H. Ruth (Leach) Thurston. He received his FCC Broadcast Engineering license following graduation from the Massachusetts Radio and Telegraph School in 1949 and immediately began his broadcasting career at the age of 19 as an engineer at WTWN in St. Johnsbury, Vt.
From 1952 – 1960, Don built and managed WIKE in Newport, Vt and in 1960 moved to the Berkshires to head operations of WMNB in North Adams. In 1966, under the banner of Berkshire Broadcasting Co., Don purchased WMNB and WNAW and expanded the family business with the purchase of WSBS in Great Barrington, as well as several stations in the eastern part of the state and Connecticut.
Don was an active member of the First United Methodist Church of North Adams, a former Rotarian and a longtime member and past president of the Northern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. Don was the first recipient of the organization’s Francis E. Hayden Award. He was an early advocate and supporter of MASS MoCA and a trustee and chairman of the board at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, serving for a short time as interim president. He was a member and served on the board of directors of the Taconic Golf Club and was a director for the former Berkshire Bank & Trust Company.
Don ran in the Republican primary for the United States Congress, following the death of the late Silvio Conte. Don received an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities from North Adams State College in 1977 and an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Emerson College in 1995. He served as chairman of the joint board of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and received the industry’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Award in 1980. During Don’s tenure with NAB, he founded the Broadcast Capital Fund, a venture capital firm that helped fund minority ownership of broadcast properties, and served on its board of directors. For 15 years, Don was a director of Broadcast Music Inc., one of the largest international music licensing organizations, and served as chairman of the board from 1994-1997. He was inducted into both the Massachusetts and Vermont Broadcasters Halls of Fame.
While Don’s business, industry and civic achievements were important to him, his greatest joy in life was his wife of 58 years, Oralie Alice (Lane) Thurston, whom he married September 9, 1951 in West Burke, Vt., and his family, daughter Carolie Lane Collins and her husband Robert B. Collins of St. Paul, Minnesota; son, Corydon Leach Thurston and his wife Marie of Williamstown, Ma.; (5) grandchildren, Sarah Thurston, Thomas Thurston and his wife Julie, Ross Thurston, Sean and Patrick Collins; (2) great grandchildren, Emma and Anna Thurston; (1) brother, J. Allen Thurston and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by twin brothers Walter and George Thurston.
A Methodist Memorial Service to celebrate the life of Donald A. Thurston will take place at Sunday at 2:00 P.M. at the First Congregational Church of North Adams with the Rev. Kim Kie, Pastor of the First United Methodist Church of North Adams officiating. There are no calling hours. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations are suggested to the Donald A. Thurston Communications Scholarship at MCLA or to the First United Methodist Church of North Adams through the Flynn & Dagnoli-Montagna Home for Funerals, WEST CHAPELS, 521 West Main St. North Adams, Ma.
I am deeply honored to be asked by the family to speak to you this afternoon about Don Thurston. I've been known to put a couple of words together from time to time, but there's nothing in my experience that has given me the ability to put Don's life -- as I've known it -- into words.
In 1976, I got a letter which said:
I wish I'd saved that letter. But I had so many of them.
Three or four years later, I met his daughter when we worked down at WBEC in Pittsfield, and I didn't care for her that much, and she didn't much care for me. So, naturally, we were married about three years later and I became Don Thurston's favorite son-in-law.
Years later, when I went to work for him, I asked him where he kept that resume and he acknowledged that he didn't.
Life is funny. And life is to be marveled, even when it ends.
A guy grows up in Gloucester of modest means,
goes to school to be an electrical engineer, goes to Vermont to work in radio;
even does a morning show from a barn -- with a dog -- then strikes out on his
own and works his way up to owning a radio station in North Adams, and he put
an FM station on the air -- WMNB, which he used to stood for "We May Never
Broadcast." And from his home base,
he became one of the most influential people in his field in
Radio was the medium that united
But up on the hill here, at the highest point beyond the hairpin turn, there's a red light on top of a tower that flashes: on…and…off. All night. Every night. We refer to it as "Papa's Light." They were going to shut it off a few years ago because it's not required anymore. But pilots over at the airport -- bless their hearts -- asked that it be kept on because when you're flying around in the dark over horrible terrain, it's the beacon that says, "This is where home is. Right over here." So, Don and Cory kept it on.
Like Papa's Light, Don reminded us through his actions and words, that no matter where you are, no matter the route of your life, no matter the terrain you encounter, this is your home. Right over here.
Lesser men have left the Berkshires and never looked back.
Others have seen success as something you find somewhere else.
Where others saw danger, he saw potential, which is the number one reason why Don saw so much success himself. He saw in us things that we didn't even see in us. Nobody loved our success more than Don. He was loyal to the people who worked for him at those radio stations and they were loyal to him, and to these communities, and that did not happen by accident.
Don Thurston was living proof of what can be accomplished with a bucket-load of optimism and a woman named Oralie.
If you were a contemporary of Don's -- and especially if you were an in-law -- your God-given survival instinct compelled you to a life with a singular purpose: Not to disappoint Don Thurston, a man with that voice that would make you sit up straight.
I say that not to imply that there was a price to be paid from Don for disappointing him; there was a price to be paid from you and your mirror. That's what a role model does. He provides the big shoes. The rest is up to us.
He made us want to be better.
Don was brilliant. He made us want to be brilliant, too.
He was a man of more integrity than any person I've ever met. And he made us want to act with more integrity, too.
Don felt an abiding sense of service to his community, whether it was his church, his city, his county, his college, or his country, and he made us want to serve our communities, too.
Whoever you are and whatever life you've lived, when Don Thurston talked to you, your life was the most interesting in the world -- not because it was some technique of a guy who knew how to close a deal, but because Don found the same wonder in our lives as we found in his. If at times we thought we didn't measure up to our role model, the cure was merely to spend a few minutes with him.
Nobody deserved a happy and healthy retirement more than Don Thurston. But I'm not going to lie to you; he didn't get it. The last few years were a struggle. The last few months were the very definition of "unfair."
They required us then -- and require us now -- to make a withdrawal from a bank account into which Don made a regular deposit of wisdom.
There is a well-embellished parable that says that one day Solomon decided to humble Benaiah, his most trusted minister. He said to him, "Benaiah, there is a certain ring that I want you to bring to me. It has special powers. If a happy man looks at it, he becomes sad, and if a sad man looks at it, he becomes happy."
Benaiah searched for
the ring, and finally passed a merchant in
The elderly man took a plain gold ring from his display and engraved something on it.
Benaiah took the ring back to Solomon, who read the inscription that made his smile disappear. The jeweler had written three Hebrew letters on the gold band -- Gimel, Zayin, and Yud -- which begin the words "Gam zeh ya'avor." This, too, shall pass.
These words were Don's mantra, and as we reflect on our sorrow today, they can make a sad person happy. For we know that Don was right. This grief will pass.
For now, however, I share it with Oralie. And Allen. And Carolie. And Cory. And Marie.
The largest part of Don Thurston's loving heart was reserved exclusively for his grandchildren.
If you did know Don Thurston, then today we share a common sense that we have been the luckiest people in the world.
In this hour… at this moment… this family… this community… this world … has never needed the likes of Don Thurston more.
He has given us the example of a life well-lived, in service to us.
Let us vow not to disappoint him.