Richard Elliott Thurston

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Richard Elliott Thurston

March 27, 1933 - October 16, 2018

Richard Elliott Thurston Lt. Colonel Richard (Dick) Elliott Thurston, 85, passed peacefully on Tuesday, October 16, in Norman, Oklahoma. He was a notable conductor, and arranger of music for band, orchestra, ensembles, and solo instruments.

Dick was born in Wewoka, Oklahoma to Watson Lee and Mary Ila (Williamson) Thurston. The family later moved to Norman, where Dick graduated from Norman High. He earned a Bachelors and Masters in Music from the University of Michigan in 1955, where he distinguished himself as a gifted conductor. After graduating, he joined the U.S. Air Force, serving five years as a navigator on transport aircraft, before joining the Air Force Band Program. While serving as a navigator, Dick met the love of his life, Iris Mardell Nelson, at a social gathering in Dover, Delaware. They were married October 17, 1959.

As a band officer Dick commanded and conducted bands in Hawaii, Virginia, Colorado Springs, Maryland, Texas, and Washington DC. From 1969-1975 he was commander and conductor of the U.S. Air Force Academy Band in Colorado Springs. During this time he completed his PhD in Musicology from the University of Texas at Austin. He was also elected to membership in the prestigious American Bandmasters Association, where he served many years as Secretary-Treasurer.

A high point in Dicks military career came when he assumed command of the U.S. Armed Forces Bicentennial Band and Chorus in 1975. He led this 130-member joint service organization on concert tours that included 45 states, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In 1980 he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, after a final tour of duty as Chief of Bands and Music at the Pentagon.

Dick continued working in music, many years after his retirement from the military. At Yale University he was director of bands, and Associate Dean of the School of Music. He returned to Oklahoma in 1982 to become Dean of Fine Arts at Oklahoma City University. He also directed community orchestras and a community concert band. In 1986 he moved to San Antonio where he became Assistant Director of Publications for Southern Music Company. While there he created more than fifty musical arrangements. These arrangements continue to be performed, regularly.

Dick and Iris moved back to Norman in 1995, where he spent many enjoyable years substitute teaching and conducting local orchestras and bands. Dick also enjoyed travel, reading, and watching classic films. Family and friends remember his gentle spirit, his kind heart, and many, wonderful times. In addition to his wife, Dick is survived by three children, three grandchildren, and two brothers: son, Torin and his wife, Patricia; daughter, Tammy George, her husband Randy and their daughter Mindy; son, Tad and his children Gehrig and Ellie; brother, Tom Thurston, and his wife Margaret; and brother, Harry Thurston.

A celebration of Dicks life will take place Tuesday, October 23, at 11:00 am, First Christian Church, 220 South Webster, Norman, Oklahoma. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Dicks memory to the church.
Published on October 19, 2018
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