John Lowell Thorndike

Contributed by Ryan Wheeler

The Peabody lost a great friend with the recent passing of John Lowell Thorndike ’45 (1926 – 2020).

Image of John Thorndike, an older man with black rim glasses, a striped bow tie, and tweed jacket standing in front of a microphone at a museum event.
John Lowell Thorndike ’45 at the Peabody in 1998. Collections of the Robert S. Peabody Institute of Archaeology.

John was critical in the recent history of the Peabody, serving as chair of the Visiting Committee in the 1990s and early 2000s. This was a turbulent period, seeing everything from the reopening of the Peabody in 1990, engagement with Native American tribes through repatriation, and an attempt to become a public-facing institution with relevance on campus, culminating in a near-closure in 2002. He and Marshall Cloyd ’58, played a big part in the decision to keep the Peabody open and refocus our efforts on programming for Phillips Academy students.

I was fortunate in getting to know John a little, as he would visit campus at least once a year to attend the luncheon presentation of the Augustus Thorndike Jr. Internship, which he founded with his brother Nicholas (PA Class of 1951). Students selected as interns spent a year preparing a historical biographic sketch of an interesting Phillips Academy person, often an alumnus or faculty member.

John remained intensely interested in the activities of the Peabody in the years after 2002. He was particularly interested in our relationship with the Pueblo of Jemez and our continued work on repatriation of Native American ancestral remains and funerary belongings. We often had a chance to sit and talk before and after the luncheons, and John and I frequently had e-mail or phone exchanges after he received our monthly newsletter. John was particularly delighted when our ceramic artist friends from Jemez, Dominique and Maxine Toya, joined one of the Thorndike luncheons. They were on campus that week to work with Thayer Zaeder’s ceramics classes, continuing our long relationship with the pueblo.

John also shared with me his pleasure in seeing the publication of our book, Glory, Trouble, and Renaissance at the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archaeology, by the University of Nebraska Press in 2018. John was not able to attend our launch party at the Peabody, but he called me shortly after receiving his copy in the mail and expressed his delight at our success, the considerable work done by Peabody director Malinda Stafford Blustain and Peabody staff members. He grudgingly and humbly acknowledged that he had some small role in that success, in the understated style of the New England gentleman that he was.

Our condolences to John’s family and friends. He will be missed.

A wonderful tribute appeared in the Boston Globe, recounting Mr. Thorndike’s many philanthropic and family pursuits: https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/bostonglobe/obituary.aspx?n=john-lowell-thorndike&pid=196302666

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