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Horse Lovers

Veterinary student and his benefactor share a common bond

As a girl Dorothy Dudley Thorndike enjoyed the company of animals. Instead of playing golf and tennis with her family at a country club near their home in Bronxville, New York, she longed to ride horses. When her parents finally agreed, she would pedal her bike to neighboring Tuckahoe—her Dalmatian Tally-Ho tagging along—and ride for an hour.

Her love of horses continued well beyond childhood. In the 1960s, she and her husband, John Thorndike, were living in Dover, Massachusetts, and she was able finally to own horses, first Socrates and then Quel Plasir, thanks to a neighbor who lent her an unused stall. She ran a busy landscape-planning business, and found pleasure on her frequent rides along bridle trails beyond their property—often as far as Medfield and Sherborn. The couple’s Dalmatians were her constant companions.

“That was a most magnificent sight,” recalls John Thorndike. “She would ride for three or four hours.” Dorothy also loved Dalmatians—she and John always had two—and took them occasionally to the Foster Hospital for Small Animals for care. Dorothy Dudley Thorndike passed away in 2008, and now John Thorndike has honored his wife’s lifelong devotion to animals by establishing the Dorothy Dudley Thorndike Scholarship at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. A matching amount from the university’s Financial Aid Initiative doubled the gift, “making this fund even more substantial and meaningful,” John Thorndike says.

How fitting that the first recipient of the Dorothy Dudley Thorndike Scholarship, Brandon King, V18, shares her passion for horses. He has been riding and training them since he was 12. When his horse was stricken with colic about 10 years ago, veterinarians saved the animal’s life. “That sparked an interest in me,” King says. He graduated summa cum laude from the animal science program at the University of Connecticut, and now, as a veterinary student, he’s focusing on large animal and equine care.

“Dorothy was devoted to animals, and we share a particular connection with horses,” says King. “It is a privilege to carry on her legacy here at Cummings School and in my future as a clinician.”

That legacy and life story grew out of an era when not a lot of women went to college, let alone started a business.

Dorothy Wood Dudley and John Thorndike married in 1950; she was a junior biology major at Vassar, and he had just graduated from Harvard. They had met years earlier, when Dorothy roomed with his sister at the Virginia girls’ prep school Chatham Hall. He says he was instantly smitten. The newlyweds settled in Brookline, Massachusetts, and Dorothy planned to finish her degree at Radcliffe, but it would accept only one of her Vassar credits for transfer.

Undaunted, she changed directions and began working as a horticulturalist at the Arnold Arboretum. She won the Bulkley Medal at the 1966 Massachusetts Horticulture Society Spring Flower Show with her display of native New England orchids. “The arboretum was her heaven,” says her husband.

After two decades there, she found herself increasingly sought out by people who wanted help planning their own gardens. Dorothy launched her landscape-planning business, which she ran for more than 30 years. “She was extraordinarily competent,” says John Thorndike. “Whatever she put her mind to, she did well.”

She also took time amid her busy career and with her son grown to attend Wellesley College as a Davis Scholar; she graduated in 1975 with that long-desired degree in biology.

Of the new scholarship at Cummings School, John Thorndike says, “I am happy to see that these gifts for education become tributes to Dorothy. They are appropriate in view of her tremendous interest in biology and in the important work going on at the veterinary school.