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    In Memoriam: Samuel Thoron (1939–2018)

    All of us at the San Francisco Bay Times were saddened to learn of the passing this month of Samuel Thoron, who with his wife Julia led PFLAG SF (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for 25 years. Sam and Julia also led PFLAG National and were board members of Marriage Equality USA. He was a deeply compassionate individual who helped countless others throughout his life.

    Born in Washington, D.C., he was the third child of Violet Spencer Thoron and Benjamin Warder Thoron. He was educated at St. Albans School in Washington, D.C., Pomfret School in Connecticut, and Harvard College, with a break during his college years to serve in the U.S. Army in an artillery unit stationed in Germany. According to their engagement announcement published in The News York Times, while a student at Harvard, Sam met Julia Harding Miller, and they were married in December 1962 at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. 

    Sam’s lasting source of meaning and personal satisfaction were found in his 35 years of sobriety and connection to other recovering alcoholics in AA, in his many years of leadership in service and advocacy organizations working on behalf of the LGBTQ community and their allies and in the fight for marriage equality, and in his deep connections to his family, both immediate and extended. 

    Sam stopped drinking in 1983. For 35 years, he regularly attended AA meetings and remained sober until the end. He found his own recovery strengthened when he helped those facing similar struggles, and he prized his relationships with all his friends in the recovery community. Sam freely admitted that if he’d kept drinking, he would have lost both his family and his life a long time ago, and he was continually grateful for his hard-won second chance. 

    LGBTQ issues became important to Sam after his daughter Liz came out. As leaders of PFLAG SF, Sam and Julia were passionate about helping other parents learn to accept, support and advocate for their gay, lesbian and transgender children. Sam served on the PFLAG National Board for ten years and as PFLAG National President from 2002 to 2006.

    Sam and Julia were enthusiastic and vocal supporters of the 2008 “No on 8” campaign in California. They were featured in an influential campaign advertisement and signed the California Voter Information Guide argument against Proposition 8, stating simply that they wanted their lesbian daughter to have all of the same rights and opportunities as their two straight sons. 

    Sam and Julia Thoron for many years led the PFLAG contingent in the San Francisco Pride Parade.

    Sam continued his service as a board member of Freedom to Marry and Marriage Equality USA, and as a supporter of the Horizons Foundation and other organizations. In 2015, Sam and Julia were honored by the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee as recipients of the José Julio Sarria History Maker Award, in recognition of their extraordinary contributions to the way society views the LGBTQ community.  

    Sam was dedicated to his family, starting with his wife, Julia, of 55 years, whom he always introduced as “my lovely bride.” He parented with both joy and seriousness, forging connections with his children and grandchildren through bedtime stories, stuffed animals, sailing and motor-boating adventures, and earnest, wide-ranging conversations over dinner. He cared deeply for his extended family, and was a link that kept various branches of the family together. 

    He was an avid bird watcher, loved “simply messing about in boats,” and could often be found on the choppy waters of Tomales Bay enjoying both of these beloved activities. He cherished the family property on Martha’s Vineyard where he had spent summers as a child, and was deeply committed to the stewardship of Seven Gates Farm, where he served as President, as his father had.

    He will be remembered by those who knew him for his wisdom and insightful commentary. He was humble, pragmatic and gentle with his advice to all. 

    He died in his sleep at the age of 79, shortly after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He is survived by his wife, his children, Benjamin, Joseph and Elizabeth and their spouses, Patricia Saraniero, Lisl Thomsen, and Lisa Mitchell, seven grandchildren, his sister, Ann A. Hale of Bedford, Massachusetts, the extended Thoron family, and the beloved Miller family of Marin County; predeceased by his brother, Christopher Thoron, and parents Benjamin W. and Violet S. Thoron.

    The family encourages Sam’s friends to consider a donation in his memory to one of the organizations that was important to him: 

    PFLAG Thoron State Advocacy fund
    Point Blue Conservation Science
    Horizons Foundation


    A memorial service is planned for Saturday, January 5, at 10:30 a.m. at the First Unitarian Universalist Society of San Francisco.