Thornton began his business career as a rug man, which doesn’t seem like a great way to make a fortune until you find out he sold his company in the early ‘90s for roughly $60 million. While he never went to Tennessee, Thornton grew up in the shadow of Neyland Stadium and became a “friend of the university” in his later years. He counts Phillip Fulmer and Pat Summit as his friends. In 1990 he endowed a scholarship for a Lady Vols basketball player.
Then in 1995 he donated $1 million to the Thornton Athletics Student Life Center. In return Thornton was allowed to run through the “T” formation prior to the Volunteers 1995 homecoming game. Then-athletic director Dr. Joe Johnson even ran through the “T” with Thornton per his request. Thornton enjoyed it so much he ran back down the sidelines, got in the back of the line and ran through again. Thornton continues to be a presence at Tennessee since he serves on Tennessee’s Board of Trustees.