Wed07302014

Obituaries

HAROLD H. THURSTON


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1918 – 2012

Hutch, as he was known to friends, passed away on April 9th, two months before his 94th birthday. He had resided in Los Altos for 60 years.

He is survived by Jane, his beloved wife of 70 years, daughter Laurie Pyatte (Robert) of Marshall, Michigan, sons David Thurston (Wendy) of Saratoga, Bruce Thurston (Marsha) of Grass Valley, Skip Thurston (Debbie) of Vancouver, Washington, grandchildren Danny, Kevin and Jeffrey Thurston of Vancouver, Jason Heindel (Andrea) of Los Angeles, Megan McClung of Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Erin McClung of Boone, North Carolina. His great-grandchildren, Jakob and Misha, live in Los Angeles.

Hutch was born and grew up in Minnesota. It was there he discovered his love of flying and he often barn-stormed around the Midwest. He earned a degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Minnesota and began a flying career with TWA that spanned 36 years. He was exactly the pilot everyone wants at the helm of their plane with a perfect safety record and a clear-eyed, confident manner. He treated his crews with respect and charmed his passengers with his ready smile and willingness to spend a few moments talking with them. He enjoyed having guests in the cockpit, especially children.

Hutch retired from flying in 1978 at the age of 60, as all commercial pilots must. He accepted that, but was not ready to leave the cockpit yet. The policy at the time was to allow disabled pilots to automatically move to the position of flight engineer, but not the older retiring pilots. He filed an age discrimination lawsuit and found a kind of second career.

Hutch began running because it seemed to be a good visual. Indeed, over the next seven years, he appeared on talk shows and gave many interviews. There was nearly always an accompanying video clip of him running. He lost in one court and won in another and so it went. Finally one morning, as his grandchildren were getting ready for school, they looked wonderingly at the TV screen and said, “There’s Grandma and Grandpa.” Cameras had caught them arriving at the Supreme Court to hear his case argued.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in his favor in a landmark decision. He had won, but the victory was bittersweet. He was glad of the experience, grateful for the decision and hoped it would help others. But for him it was too late. He was 67 by then and though he was offered the chance to return by the airline, he felt he had been out of the cockpit too long.

He did take something from that experience. The running, which he started for “show”, he found he loved so much that he would run for the next 25 years. He and his faithful retriever Max came to be a fixture at the track at Foothill. He made wonderful friends and filled the wall in the den with medals from his many races. He relished his birthdays for they meant less competition in his age group. The last race he “won” was an 8K that he finished in one hour and 22 minutes. He was 86 years old at the time.

It was sad to see his brisk step slowed and his sharp mind rendered confused by that terrible thief, Alzheimer’s disease. It took from him his family, friends, the memories of all the things he loved and finally, his life. But there is a lesson to be learned from him even now: find something you love and do it as best you can, as long as you can.

There will be no memorial in accordance with his wishes. To remember Hutch, donate to Alzheimer’s research. And then, take a moment to do something you love and give thanks for it.

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