Legacy Story: Larry Thornton
“The Community Foundation offers a long-term approach to making your contribution, your life’s work, sustainable and continuous.”
Building a Lasting Legacy for Birmingham
Whether it’s as a businessman, entrepreneur, artist, or author, Larry Thornton is guided by one principle – service to his community. “When I started my business in 1992, it was the first African-American owned McDonald’s in the city of Birmingham. It was clear to me, even at that point, that our work was not going to be just a business. It was going to be a ministry as well. We’ve never strayed away from that philosophy.”
Throughout his life, including a more than 40-year career with Coca-Cola and as president of Thornton Enterprises LLC, Thornton learned many lessons along the way that he shares in his recent book Why Not Win? A reflection on a fifty-year journey from the segregated South to America’s boardrooms – and what it teaches us all. And it was this servant-leader perspective that Thornton brought to the Community Foundation Board of Directors during his nine-year tenure.
“One of my winning moments was when I realized the significance of what the Community Foundation does,” he remembers. “And I was embarrassed. I felt that I had been ungrateful for all of the things that I, along with my family and friends, had enjoyed while we had no clue that the Community Foundation was behind it all in so many instances.” Thornton says that was the “aha moment” that made him want to take a more proactive approach to ensuring the work of the Community Foundation was able to continue. “And if we continue to do our work and do our work well, the more people will understand the value of the Community Foundation and the difference it makes.”
Through his donations and through his service as a Board member, Thornton has played a significant role in the Community Foundation and the work it does in the Greater Birmingham area. “Every single thing that I do is to build a better community. And when you have a proven entity like the Community Foundation – an entity that gets it and gets it right from the wealthiest of us to the least of these – it’s almost blasphemous to have the wherewithal and then to not support it for the greater good of the community.”
Thornton says that it was his service on the Board that opened his eyes to the myriad programs and initiatives the Community Foundation is involved in and the real value they bring to the community. “For those of us who have been fortunate and so many who have been way, way more fortunate than myself from a financial perspective, it just makes sense to me to continue that work that the Foundation is doing,” he says. “That is why I am leaving a gift to the Foundation in my estate plan and I encourage others like me to do the same thing and invest in the future of our community.”