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Constance Dolores Savage Thornton, 85, overcame medical odds

She was told she could never have children, but had four, and held numerous jobs.

Constance Dolores Savage Thornton
Constance Dolores Savage ThorntonRead more

DOCTORS TOLD Connie Savage's parents that she was born with an enlarged heart and couldn't live past 13, that she could never work and certainly never have children.

Connie died Nov. 19 at age 85, the mother of four children, 23 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren, and with a lengthy resume of a work career.

So much for medical science!

Her activities with her growing family, her church, her various jobs and community work would have taxed a person of lesser courage and determination.

Although Connie suffered from a number of ailments in her life and was in almost constant pain for some 30 years, she didn't let her condition deter her from living a full life of service to others.

She was living in Durham, N.C., but had lived most of her life in the Manayunk-Roxborough area.

Her brother, James "Pug" Savage, said his sister's constant pain was something she "was able to put aside and do the things she needed to do and the things she wanted to do."

Constance Dolores Savage Thornton, as she became after marrying the late Oliver George "Billy" Thornton Sr., a native of Manayunk, was born in Philadelphia to Adam and Laura Gist Savage. She graduated from Roxborough High School.

Defying the doctors who said she shouldn't work, she worked as a domestic, sales clerk, administrative assistant for the Jules Gordon auctions and as a school-evaluation tester.

As a mother of young children, she kept them active with trips to museums, parks, ice skating in the winter and roller skating in the summer.

She played learning games with them, teaching them how to read, write and count. And she also gave them instruction on how to behave in social gatherings.

Connie never hesitated to chip in when something needed doing. Like the time a hurricane struck Florida and Channel 6 organized a relief effort. When she arrived at the station with clothing to donate, she was asked if she would help with the packaging and mailing of the donations. Of course, she said yes, and spent hours working on the project.

Her husband, Billy, was surprised when he was watching TV and saw his wife interviewed about the work.

Connie and Billy opened their home to anyone who needed shelter, either briefly or long term. They also helped raise some children who needed parenting, and donated clothing and food to the needy.

"Many people entered and stayed not just in their home, but in their lives," her family said.

Connie was also skilled in a number of artistic endeavors. She painted portraits and made sculpture, pottery and dolls. She also created miniature houses complete with landscaping, one of which was in an exhibit at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

She became an active member of the Interac Senior Center of Roxborough, now called the Center at Journey's Way. She was a member of the board and met with city officials and architects to plan senior-housing projects.

She was proud of photos of her at groundbreaking ceremonies with city officials.

Connie was featured in a book about the history of Roxborough written by Nick Myers. She attended a book-signing event with family and friends.

She was baptized at the Josie D. Heard African-American Episcopal Church in Manayunk and was active in the church's work. She was a member of various ministries, including the usher board, trustee board, stewards board, Young People's Department and deaconess board.

She also worked in the church soup kitchen and in after-school programs for neighborhood children. She later became a member of Galilee Baptist Church in Roxborough.

Connie was on the planning committee for the Savage family reunion in Philadelphia in 1980.

After moving to North Carolina, she became active with the Antioch Baptist Church in Durham.

Besides her brother, she is survived by three daughters, Valarie Thornton-Willoughby, Karen Quick and Debora Thornton-Mallard; a son, Oliver Thornton Jr.; a sister, Amanda Boots; and her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Services: Memorial service was Saturday.