Thomas P. Thornton, a former State Department official who later joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies in Washington and later became an adjunct professor of international relations at Homewood, died May 5 at his Guilford home. He was 93.
A cause of death was unavailable.
“Tom was a person who was modest and not arrogant, and had sat at the table with some of the most significant figures in American foreign policy. He was a very rare person,” said William G. “Bill” Durden, a friend for decades and former president of Dickinson College.
“He had a keen mind and a firsthand view of geopolitics,” Mr. Durden said. “He understood Germany, Pakistan and India. He liked to engage people and wanted to know how the world worked.”
“As a teacher, he was incredibly knowledgeable and a master of the subject matter. He was revered inside and outside of the classroom. I wouldn’t be where I am today academically and professionally without him,” said Ronak D. Desai, who studied foreign policy under Mr. Thornton at Hopkins and is a Washington attorney and an adjunct professor at Hopkins.
“Dr. Thornton was one of the country’s top five South Asia experts. He moved in the highest echelons of the government where he inspired generations of foreign policy experts.
“He brought his values and principles to his high level jobs and teaching. He understood the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the U.S. and was most prescient in his responses. He knew there were rights and wrongs and that is his legacy.”
Thomas Perry Thornton, son of Thomas Anthony Thornton, a lawyer, and Catherine Bredendiek Thornton, an office manager and homemaker, was born in Pittsburgh and moved during World War II with his family to Philadelphia.
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After graduating from Lower Merion High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1950 from Haverford College, and the next year was the recipient of a Fulbright and studied in Tubingen, Germany, while completing his Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins University.
From 1953 to 1955, Mr. Thornton served in Navy intelligence. After leaving the military, he remained a reservist and attained the rank of captain.
In 1955, he joined the U.S. Information Agency and was posted to India, and three years later went to work as a civilian in the Office of Naval Intelligence.
While on a sabbatical from ONI, he worked for a year at what is now the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies.
He returned to ONI in 1962, and the next year began his career with the State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, where he remained until 1969, when he became a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff.
During the presidency of Richard M. Nixon, he was the senior member of the policy planning staff, under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger — “at a time when the staff reached a level of influence second only to its early years under George F. Kennan [best known as the architect of containment] — dealing with a wide range of global affairs, especially relations with the Soviet Union and with [developing nations],” Mr. Thornton wrote in an autobiographical profile.
When President Jimmy Carter assumed office in 1977, he selected Mr. Thornton to join the National Security Council, where he was in charge of relations “with India and Pakistan,” he wrote.
With the election of President Ronald W. Reagan in 1980, Mr. Thornton, a Democrat, eventually “was eased into early retirement,” he wrote.
He then returned to academia, joining the faculty of what is today the Johns Hopkins Institute for Health and Social Policy in Washington in 1982. Mr. Thorton taught there until 1993, when he became an adjunct professor of international relations at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Earlier, he had taught at Georgetown, George Washington and American universities. In 1996, he spent a semester as Fulbright professor at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Halle, Germany.
Mr. Thornton’s primary teaching subjects were India and Pakistan, of which he wrote widely as well as on broader issues of foreign policy.
“Recognized as one of the country’s top experts on U.S. relations with the countries of South Asia, he was a frequent participant at national and international conferences and was a consultant to the State Department and a frequent witness before congressional committees,” according to his autobiographical notes.
Among his many books are “Communism and Revolution: The Strategic Uses of Political Violence”; “Pakistan: International Development and the U.S. Interest”; and “Anti Americanism: Origins and Context.”
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“I learned vast amounts that formed the basis for the coming years when I carried much greater responsibilities. Above all, I was part of the very serious competition with the Soviet Union in which this country was engaged,” Mr. Thornton wrote in an unpublished memoir.
“The Cold War was worth contending, we brought it to a victorious finish, and for the most part we played our global role more responsibly than anyone could have predicted in 1945,” he wrote. “I am glad to have been a part of that story.”
“He left his fingerprints on his country and the windows of history,” Mr. Desai said. “He understood the foreign policy of South Asia, which is a critical part of the world, and he genuinely took the time and effort to understand it without prejudice or arrogance.”
While teaching at Hopkins in Washington, he met and fell in love with Hanne Schulten, a fellow faculty member who was a professor of German. The couple married in 1992.
He was an avid collector of stamps, with a particular focus on German ones, family members said. He also liked to play tennis and travel.
The North Charles Street resident was a communicant of St. Ignatius Roman Catholic Church, 740 N. Calvert Street, where a Memorial Mass will be offered at 1 p.m. June 3, with interment in Arlington National Cemetery.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Thornton is survived by two sons, Thomas A. Thornton of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and Peter A. Thornton of Cary, North Carolina; a daughter, Nalini T. Rogers of Bethesda; and eight grandchildren. A previous marriage ended in divorce.