Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Distinguished alumnus gives back to community

Chris Thornley, recipient of  the Douglas College Distinguished Alumni Award for 2012

By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

Even for someone who lives by the Golden Rule, Surrey businessman and Douglas College alum Chris Thornley has done more than his share of giving back.

The old maxim "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" has guided Thornley, who is the Douglas College Distinguished Alumnus for 2012, through more than 40 years of being a graphic designer, and founder and president of ThornleyHAYNE Creative Communications.

Thornley came to Douglas College in 1971 – within the first year it was open – to study graphic arts. He left at the end of his third semester for a job, got married, moved to Edmonton and made a career in advertising and marketing. Eventually he moved back to the Lower Mainland, where he completed his Associate of Arts diploma at Douglas in 1986.

Three years later, he created what would become ThornleyHAYNE Creative Communications, a marketing, branding and design firm. In the early '90s, he and his team began offering its services free of charge to non-profit organizations.

“At that time we didn't have any money, but we had lots of talent,” Thornley says, “so we started donating our services to non-profits. Eventually we found a home with the Surrey Food Bank, and we’ve been a big part of it ever since.”

Though the firm has grown into a money-maker, Thornley still believes strongly in supporting the community.

“I think it's in us. I think it's part of our make-up,” he says. “You reach a point where you become a little more self-sustaining and you want to give back to the community. It’s just the right thing to do.”

Other organizations the firm has worked with – sometimes pro bono, sometimes at a reduced rate and always with a healthy dose of volunteer time thrown in – are Bard on the Beach, Youth Arts Council, Literacy for Life, The Centre for Child Development, the Surrey Foundation, among others.

The firm created the “100 Days to Give” campaign for the Surrey Memorial Hospital Foundation, which won an award of excellence from the Canadian Public Relations Society this year.

But the project Thornley is most proud of is the rebranding of the City of Surrey, which included creating the slogan, “The future lives here.”

“As a long-time business owner in Surrey, I used to get annoyed at how Surrey was always sort of looked down upon. And the rebranding was the beginning of a turning point. The city is reinventing itself. It's a place to be proud of.”

Though nearing the age when most people retire, Thornley, 60, has no plans to stop working. But once he does, he says he’ll likely do volunteer work.

“It’s a part of my life. I think it’s really important that you keep yourself active and involved in the community.”

The Distinguished Alumni Award recognizes the quality of Douglas College graduates and their contributions to the community. Thornley will be presented with the award today.