Harrison County

He ran The Factory and the waters off Biloxi

Joseph Thornton III
Joseph Thornton III

Joseph and Shirley Thornton are probably best remembered in Biloxi as the owners and operators of The Factory restaurant at Point Cadet in the 1970s and 1980s.

Joseph Robert Thornton III, a charter boat owner and nearly the captain of a casino cruise, died on Saturday. He was 84.

“We were both born and raised in Biloxi. We basically went through the same school through the years,” Shirley said.

They raised two sons and a daughter in Biloxi and had large charter boats that supplied fresh fish to The Factory restaurant, where the Golden Nugget now sits.

“It was a good life,” Shirley said.

Married for 64 years, the couple had three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and came close to operating the 450-passenger ship The Marina Casino.

Biloxi bought The Factory from the Thorntons in 1986 with federal funds for the Point Cadet waterfront development project. The Thorntons leased it from the city and in 1990, they reached an agreement with Biloxi to operate a cruise line that would take gamblers to international waters, where they could legally gamble. They also had a berthing agreement with the Port Commission to dock the boat at the restaurant.

It was just as Mississippi was legalizing dockside casinos. In 1992, the Thorntons agreed to sell their interest in the land and the leases to Riverboat Corp. of Mississippi, which opened the Isle of Capri — the first dockside casino in the state — 25 years ago on Aug. 1.

The Thorntons continued to operate charter boats and owned Southern Sports Fishing and Due South Fishing Club that took fishermen to the Chandeleur Islands. The largest of the charter boats has 12 private state rooms, Shirley said, and operates from March through November.

Joe was always athletic, she said. He was on a boxing team when he went to LSU on a scholarship and was a Biloxi Golden Gloves champion.

He also was a state golf champion and had trophies all over the house, Shirley said. He just gave up golfing a few years ago.

“He was well thought of and well-respected,” she said, and even in their 80s, “Life was still good.”

The funeral service will be at noon Wednesday at the Howard Avenue Chapel of Bradford-O'Keefe Funeral Home in Biloxi, with visitation from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Interment will follow at Southern Memorial Park.