Amherst Magazine

John J. Waugh '54

John J. Waugh '54 died May 19, 2010.
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JOHN J. WAUGH ’54

 

John, who died on May 19, was only with our class for our freshman year but was an extraordinarily loyal Amherst man for all of his life. Orphaned at the age of 9, he went in 1947 from the Little Wanderer’s Home in Boston to the U.S. Air Force and, three years later, came with us to the college. The depletion of his G.I. Bill of Rights funding forced him to leave the college at the end of the year and go to work. Beginning as a shipping clerk at a cold storage warehouse, he eventually became the CEO of the largest refrigerated warehouse system in the world and chairman of the International Association of Refrigerated warehouses.

            In a 1998 letter to Bill Wilcox, John reflected on what motivated him to maintain his generous support of Amherst. He noted, “What I took from Amherst has been of inestimable value. One can only speculate now on how much more benefit a full four years would have provided.” His years of substantial contributions to the annual fund were augmented by a significant contribution to the Commitment to Teaching Fund. Though he did not attend any of our reunions, he did tell us all of his life in the 50th Reunion book, Strangers Once.

             In a remembrance that appears in full on our class website, Matt Mitchell recalled a correspondence with John that developed over politics, beginning in 2003. Matt writes, “Although he styled himself a Republican, John had a strong libertarian streak and wielded a strong BS detector … he seemed particularly attached to the political positions that Herb and I did not attempt to conceal. Above all, he counseled civility. John’s mastery of language marched in lockstep with the incisiveness of his intellect.” One hopes that the critical intellect John shared with Matt owes something to that one year he spent among us.

            John is survived by his wife Janet; a son and a stepson; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

—Thomas Blackburn ’54

Comments

If I ever spoke a word to John Waugh during the year we were classmates at Amherst, that word is lost in the mists of time; we only became acquainted, by correspondence, late in life. His contribution to “Strangers Once,” our 50thReunion yearbook, sheds light on John’s highly unusual career path. To begin with, he entered Amherst at age 21, a three-year veteran of the Air Force. He left Amherst for financial reasons; an orphan from the age of eighteen, he felt the need to go to work. His year at Amherst was apparently the last of his formal education.

Starting as a shipping clerk with a cold-storage company, John eventually found himself CEO of the largest refrigerated warehouse system in the world and Chairman of the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses. John once wrote to Bill Wilcox about his truncated Amherst experience. He said “what I took away from Amherst has been of inestimable value. One can only speculate now on how much more benefit a full four years would have provided."

My friendship with John developed over politics. Although he styled himself a Republican, John had a strong libertarian streak and wielded a powerful BS detector; for some reason, he seemed particularly attracted to the political positions that Herb Coursen and I did not attempt to conceal. However, above all, he counseled civility. He once copied me on an email to Herb in which he said “My caution to you (and one I continue to give to myself) is that you must not ever allow our shared flammability about issues – or even persons – to distort the quality of your living. Go where you must go; do what you must do; be who you are. I know that you do that now, of course. From now on, do it in peace. Do it with some patience. And never, never, never let the bastards wear you down.”

In December, 2008, John was kind enough to email his condolences to me on the loss of my wife. Although he had, by then, been on “24/7 oxygen” for almost a year, and had also suffered the lost of about half of his blood supply, his message quickly turned to politics, with the same firmness and insight that he had demonstrated in our first encounters years earlier. John’s mastery of the language marched in lockstep with the incisiveness of his intellect.

When we first began corresponding in 2003, John expressed the desire to “break bread or share a beverage.” It never happened. Time just ran out. And for that, I am profoundly sorry.

 

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