Mike Thornton – Chairman, Aitken Spence 1957-63

18 Jan

Former Chairman of Aitken Spence& Co, Mr. Mike Thornton (90) passed away on 20th July, in Bramley, Surrey, United Kindom. His wife Ruth, and children Luke, Chris and Rachel survive him.

Mr. Thornton joined Aitken Spence in 1946,following the end of the Second World War. His beginnings were in the Company’s shipping department, butMr. Thornton climbed the ranks in the space of just 8 years and was appointed Director of Aitken Spence & Co in 1954. He was known to describe those early years as “…a great life, working hard, booking freight, visiting ships in the harbour, playing golf and hockey and having plenty of parties.”

He later succeeded Mr. Reg Gaddum as Chairman of the Company, after the latter’s sudden death in 1957. He continued in his position as Chairman until his permanent departure back home to England in 1963.

‘The selection and encouragement of a number of young men from the three leading schools of the time – Royal College, Trinity College and St. Thomas’ College – to create a tier of embryo managers; the development of the Company’sisland wide resources, such as bringing the printing and carton-making departments from Galle to Colombo and starting a shipping office in Trincomalee for tea exports are some of the greatest achievements Mr. Thornton counted as his own, during the time he was at the Company’s helm.

Although he spent the latter part of his years in England, Mr. Thornton often returned to his country of birth, Ceylon. Born in 1920, he spent his first 7 years at the Amherst tea estate in Udapussellawa. He left for England at the age of 8 to pursue his education but returned to Sri Lanka in 1939, as a young man of 18, to learnabout tea planting from his father, before becoming assistant superintendent of a tea estate for a short time.

He soon left the country again to join the Indian Armoured Corps to fulfil his obligations to England during World War II. Having commanded a squadron of armoured cars at the age of 23, a young Thornton came back to Colombo to find being an assistant estate superintendant simply not enough of a challenge after what he had been through. He also found his Tamil, which was the single language spoken on the estate, rather rusty after speaking Urdu for over 4 years. Therefore, with a little help from his father he got the job at the Aitken Spence Shipping Department.

In 1949, Mr. Thornton married Ruth, daughter of another tea planter Norman Bostock. Ruth’s brother, Mark, resided in Ceylon for many years and went onto became Chairman of John Keells. In the same year, Mike Thornton won the Ceylon Open Golf Championship, a title he also won in 1959 and 1960. A skilful administrator, Mr. Thornton was invited to chair the Royal Colombo Golf Club of Colombo as Captain in 1961. Mr. Thornton’s golfing pedigree came from his mother, who was Ceylon Ladies’ Golf Champion seven times.

The Thorntons’ decided to leave Sri Lanka for good and return to England in 1963 following the birth of their third child;their eldest Luke was 8. However they greatly valued their Ceylonese roots, and counted many Ceylonese amongst their closest friends. Mike Thorntoncontinued to maintain a connection withthis country, which he held dear to him till the very end of his life.


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