She was born in the back seat of her parents’ 1958 Ford in La Crescenta, en route to the hospital, 45 years ago. She died four days after this past Christmas, when cancer invaded her full-of-life body.
Laura Thornbury, longtime teacher, wife, mom and friend, made the most of those 45 years spent in the La Crescenta area, teaching, inspiring, and making life joyful to those around her. In fact, she spent her last weeks on earth giving her family a memorable Christmas, with decorations, baking and traditional holiday fare.
In addition to her home, Laura left a legacy to the Glendale area that will continue to enrich lives of those who knew her and beyond.
She will be remembered through Laura’s Literacy Garden, a special place to be created in her honor where children and adults can go to sit, read and contemplate, outside the library of Fremont Elementary School, where she taught for the past 12 years.
Laura was an avid reader, and also was involved in a local book club. She inspired that love of literature in her own children, as well as in many of the children she taught in her nearly 20 years of teaching, her husband, Todd Thornbury said.
The family opted for cremation, so there will be no graveyard or headstone for the much beloved woman to be honored with flowers or visits. However, the literacy garden will be a fitting tribute and place to remember, her husband said.
Todd said his wife would be “incredibly touched” by the literacy garden. “I can’t think of a better memorial to canonize what she’s done for the school and the community,” he added.
Laura was the daughter of Don and Linda O’Hair and sister of Michael O’Hair, 48. She attended Lincoln Elementary School, Clark Middle School, and Crescenta Valley High School, where she met and fell in love with Todd.
“I can still remember the day, class and teacher when I first met Laura,” Todd said. “She walked into class the first day of our junior year,” he said, adding that the nearly 6-foot-tall Laura had the body of a model and a “beautiful, warm smile.”
“I fell, head over heels,” he said. However, Laura was “a bit wild” and “full of vim and vigor” and he was “more stable,” so it took more than a year to get her to go out with him. “But, I was persistent,” he said.
After high school, the couple attended Glendale Community College and later transferred to Cal State Northridge, where she earned a master’s degree in education and he earned a degree in business marketing. The couple married in April 1987 and have three children: Winston, 19, a student at Glendale Community College; Madison, 17, a student at Advanced Path Academy in Glendale; and Morgan, 12, a student at Rosemont Middle School.
After college, Laura went on to teach fifth-grade alongside her mother — a 35-year teaching veteran — at Mark Keppel Elementary School in Glendale. She later taught second-grade there, but transferred to Fremont Elementary School about 12 years ago, where she taught fourth-grade and later became a team teacher of sixth-grade.
Laura earned the love of her students and peers with her joking and youthful style, her husband said.
Laura’s longtime friend, Cindy Porcell, of Montrose, can attest to Laura’s ability to gain the favor of students and co-workers, as well as everyone she met. Porcell attended CV High with the Thornburys, and they have stayed close through the years. One of Porcell’s children also was a student of Laura’s.
“I have never met anybody like Laura; she had this wonderful glow about her that everyone was attracted to. Everything she did and touched was wonderful,” Porcell said.
The love of her family and her pet beagle, Bea, were Laura’s strongest passions, but she also excelled in home decorating, enjoyed vacationing in the family’s recreational vehicle, as well as her love of reading and teaching, Porcell said, adding that she will miss most her friend’s warmth and genuine concern for others.
In addition to teaching, family and other activities, Laura was a partner with her husband in opening the family’s successful spa business, Softub, which has been on Foothill Boulevard since 1996.
Another passion for Laura was her desire to give back to her community. One way she found to do this was through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, which she participated in for the past four years. Six months after that first participation in Relay for Life, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent surgery and extensive radiation and chemotherapy before being termed “cancer free.” The family then had a “wonderful two years together,” Todd said before Laura was re-diagnosed with cancer two days after last year’s Relay for Life.
Seven months ago, her cancer metastasized to her brain and lymphatic system and was “triple negative,” meaning it was not receptive to any of three hormone therapies.
Todd said his wife retained her strong faith and work ethic throughout all of her treatments and continued to teach throughout the ordeal, only agreeing to “take a break” last month after Fremont Principal Cynthia Livingston told her to do so.
“Thank God she took that time off,” he said, adding that Laura was to have begun teaching again this week.
The last month of her life was spent giving her family a holiday to remember and treasure.
“She gave us the best Christmas ever. There were gifts galore, baking and the house decorated to the nines,” Todd said, adding that the family attended their traditional services and dinners, as well as provided a Christmas brunch at their home.
He took her to the hospital Christmas night.
During her life, Laura kept her faith, remained strong and optimistic and had “very few of what she called pity parties,” Todd said, adding, “The day she died was the first time she ever said she was dying.”
A memorial service for Laura will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 17 at La Cañada Presbyterian Church, 626 Foothill Blvd.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Laura’s Literacy Garden by mailing a check to Fremont Elementary School, 3320 Las Palmas, Glendale 91208.
Checks should be made out to GUSD/Laura’s project.