Josephine A. (Giron) Thornton, 72, died Saturday, January 9, 2010, at Jeannette Hospice, following a series of health problems and complications. She was born June 6, 1937, in Pittsburgh, daughter of the late John and Catherine (O'Bryan) Giron. She was a member of Good Shepherd Church of Braddock and the Red Hats Club.
After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Modern Languages in 1958, Jo, a Navy lieutenant, worked as a translator for NATO in Norfolk, VA. She returned to Pittsburgh in 1961 and was hired by Mellon Bank's International Department as one of two translators in the Foreign Language Services unit, which she later headed until her retirement in 1998.
Jo served as president of the American Translators Association from 1977 to 1979, and was named as one of only 10 honorary members of the Association for distinguished service in the translation profession. In 1998, she was awarded the Alexander Gode Medal, ATA's most prestigious award. Locally, Jo founded the Association of Professional Translators in Pittsburgh in 1973, and organized regular meetings with guest speakers from a variety of translation-related fields, most of whom were ATA colleagues and friends.
Jo was a pioneer in translation education. She organized a translations study program in 1975 at Carnegie Mellon University, enlisting several colleagues with different language pairs and different fields of expertise to team-teach the classes, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from CMU. The entire program was moved to the University of Pittsburgh in 1979, where it remained until 2003. When she headed the translation program, Jo instituted an internship program for the most promising translation students in the classes to work at Mellon Bank and a few other locations. Jo continued to mentor students, even after her retirement, and was responsible for giving so many of us our start in the translation profession.
Jo is survived by two children, Byran J. Thornton, of North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and Sharan E. Merchant and her husband, Glenn, of San Diego, California; a granddaughter, Kimberly Bauer, also of San Diego; a brother, John Giron and his wife, Esther, of North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania; and a sister-in-law, Catherine Giron, of Iowa.
The family requests memorial donations be made to Animal Friends, 562 Camp Horne Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237 (http://www.thinkingoutsidethecage.org) in the name of Josephine Thornton.
Portions published in the January 10, 2009 issue of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
hen I was asked to write Jo Thornton's obituary from a personal point of view, I found it an overwhelming task. The reality of the loss of a dear friend, mentor and colleague of nearly 35 years still has not sunk in, even after the visitation at the funeral home. Jo would have known exactly what to write--she had a knack for writing things like letters of reference on a moment's notice, and they always read more eloquently than any I've had to write, revise and rewrite. I thought about describing how, after taking two of Jo's translation classes when the program was at Carnegie-Mellon University, she contacted me a few years later, in 1979, when a position in her office opened at Mellon Bank, and hired me on the spot. I thought about describing the translation process in an office where multiple sheet, color-coded carbonless forms and IBM Selectric® typewriters were state-of-the-art, and how frustrated I would get when she, as my editor, would make a few word changes to a translation that, to a novice like myself, seemed unnecessary (especially when it meant bringing out the White-Out, and Pink-Out, and Blue-Out, and all the other colors of Liquid Paper® available at that time or--gasp!--retyping the entire translation) but learned over time how vital it is to choose the right word. I thought about describing how proximity does breed friendship, since that first office at Mellon Bank had us sitting about five feet apart, where there was no such thing as a private phone call or an office to go in and shut the door. As a result, we shared each other's happiest moments, like the birth of Jo's granddaughter Kim, and our saddest, like the loss of all of our parents over the years.
I also thought about describing the lighter side of Jo. Anyone who knew her knew of her obsession--yes, it was an obsession--to match. Her jewelry, her wardrobe--everything had to match. When she had cataract surgery in the early 80s, she still had some bruising around her eyes when she returned to work a few days later. The first few days, when the bruise was purplish, she made sure to wear suits in shades of violet and plum, and when the bruise turned greenish and yellowish, so did Jo's wardrobe.
Then I thought about something my good friend and colleague, Tom Clark, said several years ago, as we were musing about why there are so many successful translators with roots in Pittsburgh, and he mentioned that Jo was a common thread for all of us. So many of us--especially translators like me who can thank Jo for giving us our start in this profession--have fond recollections of the impact Jo had on us, both personally and professionally. Here are some remembrances that some of Jo's colleagues wanted to share.
Gaylene Ashby wrote:
"Jo was very instrumental in influencing my decision to go into the translation field. I pestered her to death with questions, and she was very patient with me. I am grateful to her for the guidance she provided because making the decision to become a translator changed my life. Jo was a classy lady and a consummate professional. I really enjoyed studying under her at Pitt. As a student, I was mildly frightened of her at times because she was tough as nails, but I respected and admired her for her unwavering tenacity and dedication to our industry. To this day, some 16 years later, I still tell people about the sign she displayed prominently in her office that read, "We aim to please. We shoot to kill." That was Jo in a nutshell and I will always remember her fondly."
Jeanne Zang wrote:
"In the 1990s I had quit my job as a professor and wanted to get into the translation field, but I had tried to do that on my own with dismal results. Then I heard about Jo's translation program at the University of Pittsburgh. It was a great program, with Jo herself teaching some of the classes and supervising a valuable internship. Translation has been a very satisfying career for me for almost 15 years and I have Jo to thank for that."
Doina Francu wrote:
"Here are a few thoughts about how Jo helped me. I met her the first time I came to the office, after someone I knew who worked at Mellon Bank had asked her if she could help me find a job. Jo very graciously agreed to meet with me and invited me to the office. She also looked over my resume, made a few changes and gave me a few suggestions. She obviously knew how to put people in touch and help them get a start in the business.
"About a year later, I was offered an interpreting job using electronic equipment. When I told Jo about it, and that I was going to turn it down because I had never used the equipment and I had only had experience with consecutive and whisper interpreting, she invited me to the office again, put me in a conference room with some tapes and the portable equipment and let me practice for a couple of hours. As a result of that 'training', I eventually took that interpreting assignment ... and the rest is history!
"Oh, and another thing: she was the one who proctored my ATA exam, which I passed on the first try, thanks to the tips she gave me about how to prepare and some of the most common mistakes made by those who took the exam. And at the ATA conferences she also introduced me to a lot of people, some of whom are still my clients."
Kirk Jackson wrote:
"I have warm memories of Jo, both as my university professor and later on as my boss at Mellon Bank. I often think about how Jo and I would stand outside the Cathedral of Learning [at the University of Pittsburgh] before class and talk about different topics of interest to us both, even while shivering in the midst of Pittsburgh winters. At that time Jo was an accomplished translator with an illustrious career, and I was the fledgling linguist soaking up every minute of her mentorship. She always pushed me to improve, to never accept mediocrity, but also to enjoy the journey.
"In the workplace, one thing that always struck me as unique was the fact that Jo truly enjoyed the close and personal relationships that she maintained with her translators. For Jo, translators were not just impersonal vendors providing work "made for hire," rather they were real people with interests, personalities and stories to be appreciated.
"There were other little things about Jo that impressed me, not the least of which was her ability to decipher the incomplete and frequently incoherent SWIFT and letter of credit messages we would receive at the bank. Jo introduced me to the universe of translation and, fortunately for me, acted as my guide for several years. I am grateful to her for the positive impact she had on my professional career, and hopefully someday I will have the opportunity to do the same for someone else."
Patricia Sadeh wrote:
"Jo was the reason I looked at translation as a serious profession, and not something you do on the side because you happen to know (or think you know) a foreign language. Tom Clark introduced me to her, and the rest is history. She'd always expect the best, and had no qualms correcting your work until you got there. But in a nice way: between jokes and more serious comments you'd end up seeing her point and not feeling bad about her correcting. And even though I was always (secretly) wondering how much of my work she was going to change, like myself she was a perfectionist and I could completely relate to that.
She introduced me to many clients, and I'm very thankful for it."
And lastly, Tom Clark, who knew Jo longer than any of us, wrote:
"Jo was tireless when it came to tracking down correct financial and legal terminology because the translations she was responsible for routinely involved millions of dollars. She once asked me to translate a dense German legal explanation of the differences between various types of financial guarantees, and when we hit a dead end in our own research she did not hesitate to call up the bank's German lawyers. She could also take a lighthearted approach to million-dollar jobs as long as the actual translation was correct. The bank once found itself in an international pool that wound up owning several Chilean submarines--don't ask--when the Chilean government defaulted on a loan. I suggested to Jo that the bank turn the subs into revenue-generating floating restaurants and accompanied the translation with a silly line drawing illustrating the possibilities, which Jo returned to the customer along with the translation.
"We also taught the French Translation class together at Pitt for almost 14 years. Jo taught the first half of the semester and I taught the second, and she was such a positive and encouraging presence in the classroom that by the time I got the students they were eager, involved, enthusiastic and uninhibited. Never in 14 years of teaching together and much longer working as colleagues and even competitors was there the slightest conflict or disagreement. They don't make teachers and colleagues like Jo very often and I will miss her."
Jo changed the face of the translation profession in Pittsburgh and beyond, and her passing is the end of an era. Those of us whom Jo so generously taught and mentored now must carry the baton that she passed to us and do our best to make a positive impact on the future of our profession.