Eugene Elliott Horton Jr.
December 28, 1930 – November 19, 2021
Eugene Elliott Horton passed away peacefully on the night of November 19, 2021 with those he loved by his side. A true pioneer on the frontiers of space, sustainability, and the arts, he had a forever youthful spirit that shone through his brilliant blue eyes.
He was born in Miami, Florida on December 28, 1930 to the late Eugene and Charlotte (Elliott) Horton at their beloved home on Dewey Street. He was their only child and was deeply devoted to his parents throughout his life. He studied journalism at the University of Florida where he graduated with honors. His foray into aviation and aerospace began when he joined the Air Force and trained as a pilot, then served as a public relations and training officer at Gainesville Graham Air Force Base. This was the beginning of his lifelong love of all things that fly.
While working as a journalist for the Miami Herald, he was hired as the ninth employee at the Space Task Group created to manage America’s human space flight programs. He then moved his family to Houston at the nascent Manned Space Center and became the one of the first public affairs officers for NASA, working with the astronauts and engineers of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. He was an articulate and energetic advocate for NASA and space exploration his entire life. One of his most recognizable legacies is his work with Charles Schultz to bring the Peanuts cartoon Snoopy to NASA to promote Mission Safety. With that, he created the prestigious Silver Snoopy Award to honor flight safety and mission success, which is still one of the most coveted awards at NASA. He was dedicated to the people of NASA and introduced NASA’s first Employee Assistance Program where he served as lead counselor later in his career. He also generously shared his enthusiasm and knowledge of NASA by visiting schools, especially disadvantaged ones, with “rocket stuff” and the accompanying stories to inspire budding scientists and engineers.
Gene was a passionate environmentalist, founding the Earth Awareness Foundation in Houston along with astronaut colleagues which led work to protect area waterways.
This passion for the water carried through his retirement from NASA. He was the founder of the Houston Rowing Club for sixteen years where he brought the power of rowing to many, including his family, inspiring the next two generations of rowers in the Horton family and even corporations through team building rowing courses. He was also an avid sailor on Galveston bay.
Sailor, pilot, rower, environmentalist, journalist, photographer, painter, gardener, perhaps his greatest love was the written word. He loved words, both real and made up. He was the author of three published books and an accomplished poet. His most powerful way of expressing love for his family was through loving and whimsical poetry.
In addition to his professional successes, he was a family man who had two loving marriages: the first to Mary Ellen Collins for twenty-seven years and the next to his current wife, Janet Insley Horton for thirty-two years.
Gene is survived by his wife, Janet Insley Horton, and his former wife, Mary Ellen Horton; four sons: Jeff (Phyllis Rundhaug) Horton, Tom (Janet) Horton, Steve (Allison) Horton, and Mark (Ida) Horton; grandchildren: Rachel (Ryan) Cornelius, Zach (Courtney) Horton, Emily Horton, Kelly Horton, Paige Horton, Peter Horton; great-grandchildren: Luka Cornelius, Gianna and Zelie Horton; he also served as a father to Janet’s daughters, Jean Bruney, Noelle Mercado, along with Jon Mercado and grandfather to their children: Josh, Rachel, and Ben Alford and Xavier and Aiden Mercado. He is also survived by Nixon Adams, his cousin with whom he grew up.
His life will be celebrated at a memorial service at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Nassau Bay, Texas on Tuesday, November 30 at 11:00 AM. Donations in his memory may be made to the FOXG1 Research Foundation (FOXG1research.org) in support of research benefitting his great-granddaughter Gianna and children like her.
The family would like to express deep gratitude to the kind and professional caregivers who served him in his final days at St Luke's Hospital in Houston.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Eugene Elliott Horton Jr.
November 29, 2021
How fortunate we all are to have known Gene. Never have I known such a man who exuded a quiet confidence, gentle nature, and always respectful of others. He deeply loved his family and I never heard him speak ill of anyone. While I did not have the honor to have worked with Gene professionally, those who did were truly blessed. He was my friend.
November 29, 2021
The very best part of joining the Houston Rowing Club was finding new dear friends, Gene and Janet. I have so many fond memories of Gene – he was such an inspiring and enthusiastic teacher! His zest for life and his love for his Janet, and family and friends was boundless. He will be so greatly missed by so many. Go fly with the angels dear Friend. Love always to you and Janet. Ellen
November 24, 2021
The Knoedler’s of Timber Cove pass on our condolences. Also a heartfelt thanks to Mr. Horton, as kids of the 80’s were taught to say, for introducing me to rowing. Sculling at first and then the basics of crewed shells. It was enough that I could try out for the crew team when I went to college.
November 24, 2021
I’ll never forget the day I was taken to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum with Mr. Horton and his son. As an aviation enthusiast myself we had a great time looking at the many aircraft on display (some which Mr. Horton had flown the same model.). What a treat. We ended our tour at a NASA display where he shared personal stories of pilot/astronauts I looked up to as a child.
Mr. Horton was a product of our nation’s greatest generation that saw our country defeat the madness of fascism , go from rickety biplanes to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth and then ending a long, hard Cold War.
All inspired by NACA and it’s successor NASA. (Where he played a key role).
I can say I look forward to the day, (without haste) I can rejoin Mr. Horton and share the stories of aerial exploits when we meet again in the clouds. The flight west is one we all must take. Gene Horton’s flight is one that touched many a soul. His contrail may fade into the pink sunset but will never be forgotten. God’s Speed Mr. Horton.