Amherst Magazine

Amherst College In Memory Notice

John Newmann


August 26, 2011

John Newmann died of heart failure on August 12, 2011, peacefully at the home of his daughter, Sara, in Berkeley, listening, with a smile, to his favorite Louie Armstrong.

You could, if you wanted, describe his life in terms of his amazing 40-year journey with a life-threatening illness. One of his kidneys was removed while at Amherst, and he lost the use of the other in 1971.

In the 20th Reunion Book, which John edited with Dick Freeland, he wrote to the class; "While returning from Asia, my one remaining kidney shut down. Some of you may recall the first one being removed after freshman year, making it impossible for me to improve upon high school swimming times for the aquatic Jeffs. While no small trouble to cope with, a life threatening illness can turn out to be the making of us. I have such an increased sense of beauty of the most simple and obvious elements of nature and human relationships, since it became painfully clear to me how mortal we all are."

He dialyzed while working in Southeast Asia for the Ford Foundation (1967 -1979), while obtaining his Ph.D. in development economics from the Fletcher School at Tufts (1974), and his Masters in Public Health from Harvard (1980).

He was on dialysis for almost 16 years before receiving a transplant from an unrelated person; it failed. He received a kidney from his daughter, Emily, in 1994, and that enabled him to live, miraculously, to age 70.

In 1980, he embarked on a renal disease crusade, consulting, volunteering, writing and publishing, speaking, becoming a nationally prominent health care consultant and patient advocate, helping thousands of others even as he learned to cope himself. Along the way, he was recognized by virtually all the renal care organizations in the US, including the American Association of Kidney Patients, of which he served as President.

That would not be the way his friends would remember him, however, and they were legion – around the world, including those he made in Japan as the Amherst-Doshisha Fellow (1964-65).  At the Blue Note in Chicago where his parents took him on his 11th and 13th birthdays to hear Armstrong perform, the great musician succumbed, inviting him to sit in on piano, and that friendship lasted the rest of Armstrong’s life.

It was a gift to be with John, and that is how we will remember him. Always willing to engage in some frolic or other, he made you laugh, forget about your own troubles, and appreciate the special joys of being human – joys that he sensed with a heightened appreciation as his own vulnerability grew. The personal anecdotes are endless.

He is survived by his two wonderful daughters, Sara and Emily, Emily’s two children on whom he doted, and his brothers Fred (‘59) and Bill (‘69).

Kent W. Faerber
John W. Franklin
Richard M. Freeland
Edward F. Greene