Our late friend, John Gadsden Thornhill, had a croaker sack full of authenticity and Christian faith. If you grew up in an older Charleston, you knew John G. from the outdoor sporting world or the city’s vast social circuit, but more recent arrivals knew John G. from his Charleston Bay Gourmet catering. No matter when you met this true Lowcountry character, you quickly realized you were encountering a man destined to be a legend.
He left this world for an eternal one on January 30, following a long and valiant fight with cancer. In his final weeks, he said, “The Big Man has a mission for me; I just don’t know what it is yet!” His earthly mission included the telling of hilarious tales, each of which improved with retelling. A John G. story would bring forth the same roars of laughter with every story, be it the first or tenth time you heard it. He was a man full of energy and a desire to live life to the fullest. As any local will tell you, he didn’t waste a minute of the time he had while with us.
John G. was also devoted to his family and spoke of them, especially his children, frequently. He was in his true element when in the field with one of his youngsters, teaching them the art of shooting and how to find downed birds. His nickname was “Bushwacker,” as he was the one who liked to lead the deer drive through the thick of the swamps and pine hills, completely immersed in the thrill of the chase.
Great sport ramped him up, but he was especially honored to return thanks before a meal he cooked for a hunt in which he had participated. John G. knew such a moment was precious and never failed to speak of the beauty of nature and the blessed company of his fellow sportsmen. He spoke his own poetic language that was intended for old school ears — and those who wish to learn — highlighted by splashes of Gullah, dashes of Geechee and a jigger of the voice like no other. The most anticipated of his phrases occurred during his Charleston Bay Gourmet feasts, when he would trumpet, “Hot oystahs, comin’ through!” For oyster lovers, this wonderful turn of words meant, “Move aside, please! I’m about to drop ten pounds of perfectly cooked oysters on your table!” Many could mimic his trademark phrase, but it never sounded just right. His delivery was one of a kind.
John G. ran with Lowcountry personalities from those who steamed pots of rice to the ones who owned the rice fields where he hunted. His gift of hospitality overflowed like the deer that came to him last October and met their demise at his hands. He was featured on a cooking channel, catering for none other than rock stars Darryl Hall and Darius Rucker, completely at ease with these world renowned musicians — no matter who you were, if you were there when he served up his tasty treats, you were going to hear wonderful insights into his family, a favorite fishing trip, or the right way to cook Frogmore stew.
Congressman Sanford entered an accurate and gracious tribute to John G. in the Congressional Record, showing just how much of the imprint our friend had on the wider Lowcountry. But even that honor falls short when pondering his life of generosity, loyalty to his friends, commitment to his family and love of the Southern lifestyle. When John G. spoke with you at an event, his eyes never glanced around to see who else there — you were his new best friend and the most important person in the world.
We are blessed for having known this son of the saltwater who proudly wore the cross he received in 1968 for being an acolyte at St. Michael’s Church where his funeral service was held five decades years later. More than 800 friends mourned the loss of this fine man, making it perhaps the largest funeral in St. Michael’s modern history.
John G. gave all he had to those around him: 10-4, we rollin’. Yes, roll on, my friend.