Longtime New York owner-breeder Oakleigh Thorne passes away

Friday, October 16th, 2020

Oakleigh Thorne.

Oakleigh B. Thorne, a successful businessman, sportsman and philanthropist known for his quick wit and irreverent personality, died at the age of 88 last week at his home in Millbrook, N.Y.

He was best known in business circles for his stewardship of the Thorne family holding company, CT Corporation, in New York City through the 1960s and ‘70s and ultimately merging that company into its largest holding, Commerce Clearing House Inc., (CCH, Inc.) in 1976.

Shortly after the merger the family faced losing control of the company, as they were forced to sell stock to pay the tax on Mr. Thorne’s father’s estate. Mr. Thorne employed the then-novel tactic of using the company’s cash to buy in large chunks of CCH stock to pay the tax and retain control.

In 1980, Mr. Thorne retired to the family’s estate, Thorndale, in Millbrook, though he remained chairman of the board of CCH until the family sold the company to Wolters Kluwer in 1996.

In Dutchess County he was best known for the philanthropy of the Millbrook Tribute Garden Inc., and his participation on the boards of numerous local non-profit organizations.

The Millbrook Tribute Garden was founded by his great grandfather and great grandmother in 1943 to own and support a local park honoring area citizens that served in World War I and World War II. Under Mr. Thorne’s 38-year tenure as its president it expanded its mandate and gave tens of millions of dollars to local charities, schools, colleges, hospitals and municipalities.

The local boards on which Mr. Thorne served included the Dutchess Land Conservancy (where he was a founding member), the Dutchess Day School (where he served 10 years as chairman of the board), the Millbrook School, the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies and Nine Partners Cemetery.

Though born to privilege, Mr. Thorne was quick to dispense with pretense, and quick to share his amusing observations and mischievous grin with all comers.

He was born in Santa Barbara, Ca., in 1932, the first child of Oakleigh L. Thorne and Bertha Palmer Thorne. His father was a descendant of an old New York family that had financial success in the leather and publishing businesses, and his mother a descendant of the prominent Palmer family of Chicago.

As a youth the family moved frequently, including stops in Chicago, Bedford, N.Y., and Washington, D.C., as Mr. Thorne’s father went to work for the family business and then entered the U.S. Navy in the lead-up to World War II.

The family settled in Santa Barbara, Ca., during the war while Mr. Thorne’s father served in the Pacific theater and he attended the Midlands School in Los Olivos, Ca.

He graduated from St. Marks School, in Southborough, Ma., in 1950 (where he later served on the board), and went on to Harvard University, where he majored in economics and graduated in 1956, after serving in the United States Army in South Korea from 1953-1955.

Mr. Thorne often claimed that his proudest collegiate accomplishment was in 1952 when he and his roommate attempted to break a world record established by a pair of Russians who slapped each other every 10 seconds for 72 hours. Though the pair did not beat the Russian record, they did receive quite a bit of media notoriety for the attempt.

After retiring to Millbrook, Mr. Thorne pursued numerous avocations, including breeding Thoroughbred racehorses, wine making and polo, among others.

In 1980, he established Eaton-Thorne, a Thoroughbred breeding operation with Lee Eaton, a well-known Thoroughbred agent from Lexington, Ky., a partnership that produced numerous stakes caliber horses including New York-bred champions Notebook and Mckaymackenna.

He also took up polo in the mid-1980s, establishing the Thorndale polo team with Alex “Zulu” Scott-Barnes and co-founding the Millbrook Polo Club (now the Mashomack Polo Club). The Thorndale team travelled the country competing, and spent regular seasons in Millbrook, Wellington, Fl., and Sheridan, Wy.,

Mr. Thorne was an avid fly fisherman, and some of his happiest times were spent casting into the waters of the Big Horn River in search of trout or the flats of the Turks and Caicos Islands where he pursued the elusive bonefish, which he aptly named “The Grey Ghost.” He also served on the board of Trout Unlimited, an organization that enlisted fly fishing enthusiasts in the cause of conservation.

Always up for an adventure, he enjoyed traveling the far reaches of the globe with friends and family on fishing, biking, hiking, boating and riding excursions.

On a more local level, Mr. Thorne was an avid beagler and supporter of the Millbrook Hunt (foxhounds). He served as Joint Master of the Sandanona Harehounds from 1963 – 2012, where he also served as huntsman, and served as president of the Millbrook Hunt for 35 years.

He also belonged to numerous clubs, including The Racquet and Tennis Club (of New York) where he served as president for five years in the late 1970s, The Brook, The Meridian Club (in the Turks and Caicos, where he also served as president), The Mashomack Fish and Game Preserve Club, The Millbrook Golf and Tennis Club, The Fly Fishers of Brooklyn, The New York Farmers, The Tamarack Preserve Club, The Gulfstream Polo Club and The Jockey Club.

Besides CCH, Inc., Mr. Thorne served on numerous corporate boards including the Bank of Millbrook, the Fiduciary Trust Company, Palmer First National Bank and the Nine Mile Land and Cattle Co. of Ft. Smith, Mt.

Mr. Thorne is survived by his wife of 50 years, Felicitas Selter Thorne, of Millbrook; two sons by a prior marriage, Oakleigh (Jacqueline Stahl), of Millbrook; and Henry Fleming (Karen Warcholak), of Pittsburgh, Pa.; and two children with Felicitas, Jonathan (Jennifer Kennedy), of Millbrook; and Eliza (Michael Barnello), of Sharon, Ct. He is also survived by 10 grandchildren.

He was predeceased by a sister, Honore Thorne Wamsler, of Pöcking, Germany; and is survived by a sister, Charlotte Thorne Bordeaux, of Bar Harbor, Me., and a half-brother, Daniel Kempner Thorne, of Pitchcombe, Gloucestershire, England.

In lieu of flowers memorial donations may be given to the Thorne Building Community Center, PO Box 1087, Millbrook, N.Y., 12545, or The Dutchess Land Conservancy, PO Box 138, Millbrook, N.Y., 12545.

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