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Former Congressman Ray Thornton Donates Papers to UA

Collection documents the rich life of an Arkansas public servant.
FAYETTEVILLE, AR (News release) - The University Libraries announce the acquisition of the personal and professional papers of alumnus Ray Thornton, who served, during his long public career as congressman, Arkansas attorney general, Arkansas Supreme Court justice and president of the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University. As congressman he received national attention while serving on the House Judiciary Committee that investigated the Watergate burglaries and drafted the articles of impeachment against President Nixon.

“I am so pleased that scholars and historians will have access through my eyes to these interesting and instructive moments I was privileged to experience,” said Thornton. “That my life’s work is being archived and managed by the University of Arkansas and through its splendid facilities and expert librarians assures the highest possible use for many years to come. When I walk the U of A campus, it still feels like home. So it’s fitting that my documents and mementos be entrusted to an institution so close to my heart.”

Thornton was born in Conway and grew up in Sheridan. He graduated high school at 16 and attended the University of Arkansas. After two years, he was awarded the Navy Holloway Program Scholarship to attend Yale University. He graduated from Yale with a bachelor of arts degree in international relations in 1950. Thornton attended the University of Texas Law School for a time before serving three years in the United States Navy with the Pacific Fleet. Following his service, Thornton returned to Arkansas and enrolled in the University of Arkansas School of Law and served as president of student government. He married Betty Jo Mann of Sheridan.

Thornton completed his law degree at the University of Arkansas School of Law and was admitted to the Arkansas bar in 1956. He practiced corporate law for 14 years and was elected attorney general of Arkansas in 1970 and served one term. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 4th Congressional District and served three terms. Thornton chaired the Subcommittee on Science, Research and Technology and served on the House Judiciary Committee that investigated the Watergate burglaries and drafted the articles of impeachment against President Nixon.

Thornton returned to Arkansas in 1979 to serve as executive director of the Joint Educational Consortium of Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University. He served as president of Arkansas State University from 1980 to 1984 and president of the University of Arkansas from 1984 to 1989. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the 2nd Congressional District in 1990, serving three terms until his successful race for the Arkansas Supreme Court in 1996. He served as a justice for eight years, retiring in 2004. Thornton has served as the first Public Service Fellow for the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. In 2009, he was appointed as the first chairman of the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery and held that position for a year. Thornton and his wife live in Little Rock.

 “Congressman Thornton’s papers document the rich military, political, business and academic careers of a remarkable Arkansas native,” said Timothy G. Nutt, head of special collections. “The positions held by Congressman Thornton throughout his long career as a public servant are testaments to the love and respect he has for the state. He has given back to Arkansas in a multitude of ways, and we are honored to preserve his legacy of accomplishments at the University of Arkansas Libraries.”

To commemorate the gift, Chancellor G. David Gearhart honored the Thorntons with a luncheon at the Wallace W. and Jama M. Fowler House. After Thornton’s collection is organized, it will be open to researchers in the special collections department in Mullins Library.
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