James Edward Thornton wears the philosophy he developed over his 98 years of life plainly for all to see on his hat.
Thornton neatly filled in between the lines on a Christmas coloring sheet with colored pencils recently at the Hart County Senior Center, his well-worn cap resting on the table next to him. The cap read “God is Great, All the Time.”
Thornton, or Mr. Ed as many of the employees at the senior center call him, hasn’t let the fact that he is 98 slow him down. He lives by himself in Hart County, cooks for himself, does his own laundry and drives himself to town almost every day the senior center is open. Thornton says he has no plans to stop that anytime soon.
“I hope not,” he said about whether that schedule will change.
Remaining self sufficient and mobile at 98 years old is not a testament to clean living or anything else other than God’s grace, Thornton will tell you.
“I give God all the praise,” he said. “He’s the one. It’s nothing I did. I have sinned. We all have sinned. I have done things wrong, but God’s grace and mercy brought me here.”
Thornton grew up in Hart County and has farmed, worked in concrete, driven a school bus, among other things, and now likes to spend his time talking about his faith and making people laugh. His favorite hobby is teaching Sunday school.
“That’s the biggest thing I like to do now at my age,” Thornton said. “I love to make friends, and to make people happy, and to make people laugh, … and have fun.”
He has plenty of hard work in his past. Farming is not an easy task. Neither is laying concrete. When Thornton was a younger man, he worked on the crew that laid all of the concrete for what is now the Louie Morris Bridge on U.S. Highway 29 as it crosses the Savannah River. He worked and watched as the high bridge grew taller and taller and eventually completed what was then the new span behind the Hartwell Dam.
“I finished all that concrete up,” Thornton said. “I started in the footing.”
Not long prior to that, he went to Fort Benning in 1942 to inquire about joining the Army, but never did due to family reasons. Thornton was already the father of two young children. He would go on to have nine children in all.
He lost his wife of 50 years, Doris, in 2000. It was then Thornton began his regular trips to the senior center. The center is place where he can see friends, keep people laughing and feel like family.
“They treat me good,” he said. “That’s the reason I love to come here. … They’re all just like sisters and brothers.”
In 2010, things were not looking quite as optimistic for him though. He was wheelchair bound and 90 years old at the time and doctors were treating an aneurysm. The doctor told Thornton he could have surgery to fix it, but it might kill him.
“I said, ‘Doc, I’m going to die anyway,” Thornton said.
He made it through the surgery though, and after another procedure in the following months, Thornton has not been back in the wheelchair. Today he uses a cane to help him as he walks, but it hardly slows him down.
Thornton said he has seen plenty of changes in Hart County and the world since he was younger. One major change he has seen is how children play today versus when he was little.
“I tell you, when I was small, …. Mr. Ray, he was a white man, he had two boys about my age and we played in the woods on Sunday. Climbed up in the tree and ride it down,” Thornton said, reminiscing of a simpler time. “People don’t do that now. That is how we were raised. We raised up together. I never will forget them.”
He will be 99 years old next October, and 100 in 2021.
“I just give God all the praise,” Thornton said of his long life and his health. “If I live to be 100, I have a walker, I’m going to pin 100 on it and walk around the square.”