Cover photo for Gene Thornton Rice, Sr.'s Obituary
Gene Thornton Rice, Sr. Profile Photo

Gene Thornton Rice, Sr.

December 31, 1925 — January 29, 2023

Gene Thornton Rice, Sr.

Gene Thornton Rice, Sr. died at his home in Elberton, Georgia on January 29, 2023, at the age of 97.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy; daughter, Janet Rice Foote and her husband John of Stephens City, Virginia; daughter-in-law, Donna Rice of Lewisville, Texas; grandchildren: Matthew Foote and his wife Azusa of Tokyo, Japan, Benjamin Foote of Annandale, Virginia, Caitlin Rice Bertsch and her husband Kyle of Lewisville, Texas, and Stephanie Rice Casalini and her husband Cameron of Lewisville, Texas; great-grandchildren: Rito, Rhett, Marshall, and Rylan; and a host of nieces, nephews, and other relatives.

Gene is preceded in death by his children: Gene Thornton Rice, Jr. and Kathy Ellen Rice; parents, Robert Leonidas Rice and Leila Thornton Vickery Rice; and siblings: Sara Marie Rice Maxwell, Leonidas Edwin “Lon” Rice, and Robert H. Rice.

Born on New Years Eve in 1925 at home on Elberton’s Tusten Street, Gene was the youngest of four siblings. The family was raised in the First Baptist Church of Elberton where his mother was a Sunday school teacher for many years. He was a 1943 graduate of Elberton High School and attended one quarter of college courses at North Georgia College in Dahlonega.

Gene enlisted in the United States Army on September 7, 1943, at the age of 17, and left college when he turned 18 to serve his country. He began active duty on February 18, 1944, and received his honorable discharge on October 28, 1945. The war ended before he was assigned to a flight crew. This was before the Air Force was as separate branch of service.

He enrolled at Georgia Tech from where he would ultimately receive a Bachelors Degree in Electrical Engineering in 1949. During this time, while Gene was working at Lee Drug Store, he spotted Nancy Moore Borzynski, a young lady who was working at Belk. After Gene’s graduation (on the GI Bill) and during Nancy’s senior year at the University of Georgia, the couple wed on December 28, 1949, and celebrated 73 years and one month of marriage before Gene’s death.

1950 happened to be the year North Korean troops invaded South Korea, and Gene was called back into the military. With his degree from Tech, the military had him training air crew members to use radar sets and bombing techniques.

In 1955, the Rices and two young daughters, Janet and Kathy, moved to Huntsville, Alabama when Gene gained employment at Redstone Arsenal for rocket research after World War II. He and his team worked closely with ex-patriate German rocket scientists. Redstone was the beginning of the US space program.

Seven years later, the family, with the addition of Gene, Jr., moved again to Houston, Texas where Gene went to work for NASA at Johnson Space Center. After President Kennedy exclaimed in 1961 that there would be a man on the moon within 10 years, the United States gave the order to the Navy, but it was Gene and his comrades who put the order into orbit. In 1962, he joined the team of scientists and engineers who worked through the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA) to accomplish President Kennedy’s goal. In an interview with The Elberton Star’s Gary Jones dated July 17, 2019, Gene remarked, “beating the Russians was the point of the whole thing. We worked as a team.”

He began working on the Apollo space program’s rocket guidance systems, which consisted of computer calculations that controlled rocket thrusters to keep rockets going to the moon on the right path. Gene’s team was responsible for the electronics on guided missiles. The easy part was creating the technology responsible for firing a rocket to the moon; the difficult part was making it all fit together. Gene and members of several different Apollo teams traveled from Houston to all parts of the United States and the world to meet with scientists and engineers who would soon be collectively responsible for putting man on the moon.

He traveled often via prop plane to places such as Cape Canaveral and California to meet with contractors while working at Jackson Space Center. Gene worked for a few years with the space shuttle program until he retired in 1985. The couple then moved to Lewisville, Texas, where they lived for 32 years before finally moving "back home” to Elberton in 2017.

In his younger years, Gene was an award winning athlete having received awards for his skills in both tennis and golf. He was an extremely talented woodworker who built much of the furniture in his own home. Above all of his many professional and athletic accomplishments, he was most proud of his family.

At Gene’s request, there will be no funeral service. He will be buried in the Borzynski-Rice-Tyler Family Lot at Forest Hills Memorial Park.

Should you be inclined, the family suggests donations be made in his memory to Bridgeway Hospice, 105 Westpark Drive, Suite A, Athens, GA 30606.

Those wishing may sign the online guestbook at

Berry Funeral Home & Crematory of Elberton is respectfully in charge of arrangements for Gene Thornton Rice, Sr.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Gene Thornton Rice, Sr., please visit our flower store.

Past Services


Forest Hills Memorial Park

Highway 17 South, Elberton, GA 30635

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