I recently wrote an In Memory piece on Harry Sisson not dreaming that I soon would be writing a similar piece on another old friend, Johnny Mann. I had the pleasure of knowing Johnny and Harry for over 60 years. It all started in 1947 when we together entered junior high school in Westfield, NJ. Together we graduated from Westfield High School and matriculated as members of the Class of ’57. I have but a few good friends that I have known so long. It is with great sadness that I must acknowledge Johnny’s passing on June 12, 2008.
John, never particularly predictable, died unexpectedly of a heart attack while sleeping at his home in Jamaica, VT. He appeared to be in excellent health so his passing caught family and friends by complete surprise. John likely experienced no discomfort, he just never woke up.
John was born in Brooklyn, NY and was predeceased by his parents, John G. and Ann Mann. His Mom passed away at the ripe age of 97 in January 2006, adding further to the surprise of Johnny’s passing at the tender age of 73.
While Johnny matriculated with us, his graduation was “deferred.” John spent his sabbatical serving his country in the U.S. Army. Returning to Amherst in 1958, John graduated in 1960 with a major in Economics. In 1963 he graduated from the University of Virginia Law School and then began a distinguished career in labor relations, first with J.C. Penney Company and later with Associated Dry Goods. John retired as a Vice President of Associated in 1989 to pursue his many other interests.
Following his return to Amherst Johnny met Jeanne Thomson, Mt. Holyoke, ’62, and they were married in December 1961. The marriage produced two daughters, Lisa Mann in 1966 and Christina Benjamin in 1969. Lisa resides in New Jersey and is a registered nurse and a graduate of Manhattan College. Christina resides in North Carolina and is a veterinarian and a graduate of Bucknell University. John is also survived by a son-in-law, John Benjamin, three grandchildren, Noah, Julia and Sam Benjamin, and a younger brother, David who resides in Colorado.
Following his retirement in 1989, John moved to Vermont. In Jamaica he lived in an 1860’s farm house on six acres of land. He also had a home in Savannah and in recent years split his time between the two homes. For the past six years John’s best friend and partner was Carol McGregor, also of Savannah.
John loved to tinker with his property in Vermont. With his back hoe and bull dozer he delighted in rearranging the landscape. When asked, “What are you doing with yourself now that you’re retired,” he would respond, “I bought myself a back hoe and I keep myself busy moving dirt.” He also built, single handedly, two homes on the property.
John’s commitment to family was complete. He was adored by his daughters and grandchildren and remained close to his brother and other family members. John’s older daughter, Lisa wrote in his obituary that appeared in the New York Times, “He was an avid golfer, true BMW enthusiast, pianist and daily devotee of the Times crossword. He was a rugged individualist who loved nature, had a dry wit and a facility for accomplishing any task.” I will add that Johnny also loved to sing and sing well he did, hopefully now making heaven even more pleasant.
In closing, I will share with you Brother Dave’s remembrance of Johnny. “John was hugely successful as a person, brother and father. He was a Green Mountain guy at the end, but very few people I have known demonstrated such a strong leadership capability early in life yet achieved that potential as an adult. If you were stranded on a desert island and had but one person to entrust your future life to, John was the guy. He would figure out a way to get both of you off the island safely. Back hoe, bull dozer or twigs and rope – he’d figure it out.”
John, you are and always will be missed.
Helping me with this were David Mann, Jeanne Thomson, Lisa Mann, Christina Benjamin and Carol McGregor. I thank you all for your help.
-William P. Donohue '57