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In My Opinion

Your Greatest Legacy

Cameron M. Thornton '76 believes each of us has a story to tell.
Cameron M. Thornton '76 believes each of us has a story to tell.

I was born in East Los Angeles, Calif., in the fall of 1954. Shortly after that my family moved to a duplex that my grandfather had built in Wilmington near San Pedro. After that we moved to the suburb of Whittier. The majority of my formative memories orbit that space: my first bike; my first touchdown catch playing flag football; my first line drive in baseball; my first job mowing lawns; and playing in the streets with my neighbors.

My father was an L.A. County deputy sheriff. My mother worked for the county as well. The only way I could attend USC was on a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship. I changed my major a couple of times before graduating with a degree in psychology. Then the Navy made me an engineering officer. I learned to adapt quickly, and that adaptability was crucial to the smooth operation of every team I’ve been part of. I came to know that there was always something new to appreciate, every single day, everywhere I went.

I remember the first time I marched onto the floor of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 15, 1973, as a sophomore and a member of the Naval ROTC color guard. The Spirit of Troy played the national anthem and afterward I scurried to change clothes and meet up with friends in the stands as USC beat Arkansas in the home opener.

I remember being at a party at the start of my junior year, where I met a woman who was just starting her freshman year. She used her glasses like a headband, and I could see her smile gleaming from across the room. It was the Fall of 1974.

Years later, as the owner of two businesses, I would find myself in a position to provide guidance to others on the importance of memory. Or, rather, on the importance of intentionally passing on to others those critical facets of our experiences that make us who we are.

As a wealth manager I have principally worked with professionals and other entrepreneurs. I have found that these people, on the whole, are so invested in their work that oftentimes other parts of their lives are out of balance.

In addition, parents are often particularly troubled to learn that their children — who have frequently been born into better circumstances than they themselves had experienced — don’t understand their family stories or beliefs, or how hard their parents had worked to provide such a life for them.

To these professionals, the initials they wore — like MBA, M.D. or J.D. — mattered a lot less than the smile on their child’s face when they came home from work. To these people, the material goods they had accumulated could not compare to the values that had guided them through good times and bad.

That was how it worked for my family as well. The beautiful woman I met at that campus party in the Fall of 1974, Jane, would become my wife and partner in raising our three children. We, too, have faced the daunting specter of the loss of memory, as we each lost our parents.

But today we have great hope that those things that mattered most in our lives will be communicated in a comprehensible and direct way to our children, and our children’s eventual children. We believe this hope is reasonable because we have committed to paper a statement of our heritage — our story, who we are, where we come from, what we believe, and why we believe it, as well as what we hope to see in the future for our family.

This basic idea — that it is important for a person to take the time to share his or her perspective on what it means to be alive, while they still can — formed the basis for the novel I co-wrote about the measure of a good life. It was the most interesting and profoundly fulfilling work I have been privileged to do in my life.

Our life lessons and experiences mold us into who we are and what we become. Don’t take it for granted that your family and loved ones know your story. Share yours now with those who matter to you.

Cameron M. Thornton ’76 is co-author with Rod Zeeb of the novel What Matters (Heritage Institute Press, 2011). Thornton graduated from USC Dornsife with a bachelor’s in psychology and later earned his MBA from the University of La Verne. He is currently a wealth manager with Cameron Thornton Associates, a registered investment advisory and financial consulting firm.