Remembering Warren Thornthwaite

Warren Thornthwaite

I met Warren at my first PASS Summit (2010) after his “Dimensional Modeling Fundamentals” presentation. I think I embarrassed him a little when I gushed about how much I loved his books.

What? You didn’t know Warren? Well, let me tell you a bit about him. He was exceptionally kind, compassionate, brilliant, and generous with his time. He was a prolific presenter, consultant, and author. I’ve read all of the Kimball Group books in the past, but my favorite is The Microsoft Data Warehouse Toolkit. In fact, I was searching through that book yesterday, which is what prompted me to write this. Dimensional modeling is a timeless skill, and his books will forever impart this skill to those who seek to master it.

Warren was a master teacher and presenter. All of the Kimball Group presenters are/were excellent, but Warren was my favorite. He was brilliant, but self-effacing. I once saw him admit that a piece of code in his presentation wasn’t actually his, when an audience member asked a question about it. He was one of those rare people who was not afraid to say, “I don’t know.”

In 2013, I found myself involved in a very large and complicated data warehouse project. I had been thrust into the position of Architect and was in charge of a large technical team. This project had already been attempted and failed by several different teams. Anyway, I called in several experts to advise and work on the project and assure the business that the project was progressing efficiently. Since money was no object, I called in Warren to review and advise on the data model. Basically, he was there to check my homework. He spent several days on-site with us, and we all learned a great deal from him. I found him to be a masterful consultant as well. He didn’t look for “problems” just to justify his time. He wasn’t pushy or arrogant, even if someone asked him really basic questions. He didn’t lecture but rather relied more on the Socratic method of teaching. Dimensional modeling is a topic where spirited debates come up, some may even call it arguing. Warren didn’t argue, he listened to you and responded with subtle questions, he got you to realize your mistakes on your own.

Why do I keep referring to Warren in the past tense? He was diagnosed with a brain tumor shortly before joining my project. Regardless, he was the consummate professional, filled with enthusiasm and energy, and didn’t tell me until the end. The guy was fighting for his life, and we never knew it. Warren Thornthwaite passed away five years ago today.

Warren really loved data warehousing. He was immersed in it, and we bonded over our mutual obsession. I still miss him after all these years.

Feel free to share your experiences with him in the comments below.

1 comment to Remembering Warren Thornthwaite

  • Tony Navarrete

    Thanks for posting this. Earlier today Joy and I were talking about the fact that today was the 5 year anniversary of his death.

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