Thornton, former business law professor, dies at 53

Patrick Kelly Thornton


Patrick Kelly Thornton, a business law professor at the University from 2001 to 2009, whom his colleagues regarded as a man of strong values and faith, died Jan. 15. He was 53.

Thornton died from complications with cancer, according to friends and former colleagues. Dr. Mohan Kuruvilla, dean of the School of Business, who knew Thornton for five years, said he was always full of energy and full of ideas. “He made a big difference in the lives of students and was a good family man,” he said.

Thornton, a native Houstonian, attended Lamar High School and graduated from Southwest Texas State University with a degree in geography and political science. He earned a J.D. from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., an LL.M. from the University of Houston Law Center and a master’s degree in liberal studies from Rice University. He taught sports law and intellectual property law abroad in countries including Russia, Australia and Vietnam.

Thornton was a renowned sports law authority in the country, authoring two books on the subject: “Sports Law” and “Sports Ethics for Sports Management Professionals.” Dr. Melissa Wiseman, chair of the department of accounting, economics and finance, said he was working on two additional books at the time of his death. “He was still climbing and still achieving in his career,” she said.

Thornton joined the University faculty in 2001. His teaching career also included positions at Rice University, the University of Houston and South Texas College of Law. He was recently selected as the academic director for the Masters of Laws program in International Sports Law for the Instituto Superior de Derecho y Economia in Madrid.

His former students and fellow faculty members remember more than just his professional accolades. Wiseman said that despite his short life, he affected many people and accomplished many things. “It was more the man he was that made the big impression,” Wiseman said. “How he lived his life was very inspiring.”

At age 47, Thornton went to great lengths because of his older age to join the Texas Army National Guard. He joined as a Judge Advocate General, serving as an active duty officer from 2005 to 2010. He provided legal advice to victims of Hurricane Katrina. For his service, First Lt. Thornton was awarded the Army Commendation Medal.

Dr. Doni Wilson, associate professor in English, said he was excellent in whatever he did. “His students both respected and loved him, and I am so blessed to have known him as both a mentor and a valued friend,” she said. “He was also very devoted to his wife and their two boys.”

Thornton is survived by his wife Allison and two sons: Samuel, 9, and George, 6. More than 600 people attended the service commemorating his life which was held Jan. 18 at the Settegast-Kopf Company.

“He had a tremendous kindness, compassion and dedication for others and was passionate about teaching his students,” Wiseman said. “There is so much more than filling in the blanks and getting the grades and meeting the requirements. Life is more than that, and he reminded me of that.”