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Thornton Brown, M.D., 1913-2000

C., P. H.; C., H. R.; C., J.

The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery: November 2000 - Volume 82 - Issue 11 - p 1675
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Dr. Thornton Brown, a former Editor of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, died in Canton, Massachusetts, on July 4, 2000. He was eighty-six years old.

Thornie, as he was universally and affectionately known, came from an old and distinguished New England medical family. He graduated from Harvard College in 1936 and from Harvard Medical School in 1940. During World War II, he served with the United States Marines as a battalion surgeon in the Pacific theater. Following his discharge, he completed an orthopaedic residency in the Massachusetts General Hospital-Boston Children's Hospital program. In 1944, he married Sarah Tyler Meigs of Washington, D.C. He and Sarah lived for many years in the family home in Milton, Massachusetts, and then in the Milton and Canton areas, until Sarah's death in 1998.

After finishing his residency in 1948, Thornie practiced orthopaedics at the Massachusetts General Hospital. However, he devoted the largest part of his orthopaedic career to the task of being Editor of The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. After serving as Assistant to then-Editor Dr. William Rogers for several years, he succeeded him in 1958. He served as Editor until his retirement in 1978.

It was a simpler and smaller orthopaedic world when Thornie became Editor, and The Journal (which had been joined by its British counterpart in 1947) was the sole major orthopaedic journal. With the rapidly increasing number of orthopaedic subspecialties, however, it was only a matter of time before many of them would wish to have their own journals.

Thornie did all that was within his power to improve the rapidity of publication of articles in The Journal by increasing the number of issues to eight per year. He also initiated the publication of Orthopaedic Transactions in May 1977. It was due to his efforts that The Annual Bibliography of Orthopaedic Surgery was developed in cooperation with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the American Orthopaedic Association, and the National Library of Medicine.

Thornie's two decades as Editor, however, will be best recalled by the authors who had the privilege of having him work with them as editor of their papers. His meticulous insistence on the proof of the accuracy and on the clarity of the material submitted by authors set the highest standards for publishing in The Journal. The detailed list of questions that accompanied the revised, edited manuscript seemingly distressed some authors, but none could deny that their papers, in published form, were not better because of it. In the words of one grateful author: "About this great man? I gave him the ingredients! He made the cake!" Typical of Thornie's devotion to his work was the large tattered brown briefcase, bulging with manuscripts that he was editing, that accompanied him everywhere.

Thornie's dedication to The Journal was exceeded only by his devotion to his family and his church. He served for many years as a member of the Building and Grounds Committee and as Chair of the Parish Committee of the First Parish Church, Unitarian-Universalist, in Milton. His children recall that, on many Sundays, he would go home after church, change clothes, and return to work at the church for the rest of the day. According to his minister, Thornie was not just a pillar, but the foundation, of the church.

In 1979, Thornie's services to the orthopaedic community were appropriately recognized with his election as President of the American Orthopaedic Association. He served his year as President in his typical capable fashion, with self-effacing modesty and devoted work.

Shortly before his death, Thornie was asked by a caregiver if there was anything that she could do to make him more comfortable. "No," Thornie replied; as always, he was "fine." She then asked if she could help him to move about his room. "Not now," he said, and then reflected, "In due time, I will dance."

Thornie's legacy to New England includes a son, Dr. Edward Brown, of Milton; three daughters, Marian, of Grafton, Nina, of Brookline, and Dixie, of Amherst, Massachusetts; and eight grandchildren. His legacy to The Journal is an editorial tradition of honesty and excellence that will not be forgotten. He was a gentleman in the fullest sense of the word, and he will be sorely missed by all who knew and admired him.

P. H. C.

H. R. C.

J. C.

Copyright © 2000 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated