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Jenn Smith had to stop her Wednesday morning run when she spotted Terry “Doc” Thorne walking his huge Husky mix. Smith knew Thorne would have the answers she needed.
Still breathing hard, Smith told Thorne that the glass ornaments on the downtown Christmas trees were broken, and she was worried for the local kids’ safety. It didn’t take Thorne 10 seconds to reel off the name and email address of a town employee who could help, just another of the scores of people in his orbit.
“How do you not know Doc?” Smith joked, her question answered. “Doc always knows who to talk to.”
Thorne, 64, may be the best-connected person in central Cary. He’s president of the Heart of Cary Association, a hub of news for neighbors and businesses, and he lives in the white brick home his parents built on Shirley Drive in 1966.
Now the retired U.S. Marine can add another title to his business cards: sports team manager. The Cary Invasion, the town’s minor-league basketball team, has taken Thorne as its new general manager.
The Tobacco Road Basketball League team has much the same goal as downtown boosters like Thorne: Both want to bring hordes of young families into Cary’s old commercial heart, hoping to achieve a kind of critical mass that fills bleachers and restaurant seats alike.
And to do that for the Invasion, Thorne’s going to use the same strategy that has primed downtown Cary, he hopes, for a resurgence.
“Doc is a master networker,” said Mark Janas, the team’s owner.
Since 2010, Thorne has grown the Heart of Cary Association’s roster from nine members to some 135 dues-paying businesses and downtown residents. Thorne makes the rounds downtown twice a week, checking in on residents and businesses, whether or not they’re a member of Heart of Cary.
Thorne has lived in downtown Cary on and off for almost 50 years, since his family moved from Vestal, N.Y. He left during the late 1990s for a beach retirement in Wilmington, which also included a run for mayor, but he came back in 2003 as his mother’s health failed.
Over the years, Thorne has patched elderly residents and new neighbors, like Jen Smith, into a downtown community. Most people downtown know Doc – though they might not know he got the nickname as a marksman during combat missions in Southeast Asia, inspired by the gunslinger Doc Holliday.
As a central communicator for downtown Cary, Thorne fields calls from businesses and developers interested in finding new space. In 2009, he ran for a seat on the Cary Town Council, mostly as a way to call attention to downtown Cary.
“It was our tax money for those 45 years that helped the town expand,” Thorne said. “Now our infrastructure is starting to wear out ... so it’s our turn again. Strike when the iron’s hot.”
The revitalization push has included pipeline upgrades, flooding fixes and millions of dollars for cultural venues.
In a way, the Invasion’s future could be a symbol of the downtown effort’s fate, so Thorne is plunging in with all the contacts and expertise he’s built for years. As general manager, the veteran will be searching for new sponsors and vendors, and, of course, talking up the team to anyone who will listen.
He and Janas aim to boost game attendance from the mid-400s to the 750-person capacity of the Herbert C. Young Community Center’s gym, Janas said. The team is hoping to build off two winning seasons and a Continent Basketball League championship.
“I love the team, I really do,” Thorne said. And downtown too – he calls it Cary’s “town within a town.”
A win for downtown, Thorne said coyly, would nicely boost the value of The Thorne House, which sits on a block that has collected a steady stream of young new neighbors.
Thorne’s recent renovation of the family home included an elevator from the garage – just a step, he said, to make sure downtown Cary is home for the rest of his life.