Memories and Tributes

John Newmann

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From Onnie Mackenzie

This (the notice from Emily and Sara) is one of the most touching and loving messages I have ever read, a testament to John and to his daughters.

John was a wonderful and giving man. What most people don't know is that I had several conversations with John during my own dark period many years ago.  He was a great help to me then, and it has always stayed with me.  John and I were not close friends in college although I admired him even then.  What this shows, however, is that close bonds and contributions to each other's lives can develop among classmates long after we leave college.  This is one of the continuing gifts of our college and our class.

While I mourn John's loss, he will live in my memory and my heart.  Perhaps Emily and Sara will take some solace in knowing that John's good will and influence went beyond even the scope of their own experience.  His was truly a "life of consequence."

Best to all,


From Peter Gerdine

I didn’t know John at Amherst, I do remember well his broad smile and warm eyes.

You were lucky to have him for those 70 years!

Best wishes to you all!

Peter Gerdine ‘63

 From Shigeki Hijino (Toru, ’65)

The Public Bath on Teramachi                                              

In early June I received and e-mail from John’s younger daughter Emily, saying “Our father is turning 70 on July 11. Could you send him a birthday greeting?” As I had been out of touch for a couple of years, I thought this was a great opportunity to write John a letter.

Recalling his year as Fellow in 1964, I wrote, “You were so patient to spend those long hours in dormitory meetings with us, sandwiched in between two C-level student interpreters.” “At our reading seminar, you chose Yukio Mishima’s Temple of the Golden Pavilion. When it came to discussing it, I became so frustrated because my English ability was so limited.” Along with these reminiscences I sent photographs I had taken in May of the Hall at Amherst House, the cloister at Sokokuji, and the Hollyhock Festival (Aoi Matsuri) at the Imperial Palace.

I shed tears when I learned of John’s early death, just one month after his birthday. We were born in the same month of the same year. At the same time, I also thought that, despite his kidney failure, he showed an exceptional will to live his life to the fullest.

The friendship that we had from our connection with Amherst House lasted half a century. After my graduation from university, we met whenever the occasion allowed in Boston, Tokyo, New York, Kyoto, Kamakura, and Washington. John was a friend who never lost his sense of humor, no matter what his condition.

John was on the staff of the Ford Foundation working on economic development in Indonesia when his kidney failed at age thirty, and he started dialysis treatment. He underwent some twenty years of dialysis several times a week for long hours. I visited him at a hospital in Shibuya where he was having his dialysis when he came to Tokyo. He had become a consultant and advocate for patients with renal failure, after studying public health at Harvard’s graduate school. Later, he spent his life in service of kidney patients as president of the American Association of Kidney Patients and on advisory committees at the Department of Health and Human Services.

It was in the mid-1990s that John came to Japan, no longer requiring dialysis thanks to the kidney donated by Emily. It seems like yesterday that I visited the gardens of Shugakuin Imperial Villa and the night festival at Yasaka Shrine with John and elder daughter Sara, who were staying at Amherst House. One day during his stay, we went to the public bath on Teramachi where we had often gone in the old days. In the dressing room it pained me to see his body covered with scars from his surgeries. But John joked about them, saying, “These are wounds of honor: this one from the Korean War and this from the Vietnam War.”

I’ll never forget the trip to Kamakura, when Solong (Shinpei Ishii, ’66; d. 2009) was still healthy. That day, six years ago, I guided John and Judy, and Solong and his wife to a friend’s old steep-roofed thatched folk house (relocated from Fukui Prefecture) near Zeniarai Benten. John’s eyes lit up as he examined the large black timber pillars and cross-beams. Afterward, we ate at Ginza Astor restaurant near Kamakura station. John and Solong were also great friends.

The few days I spent with John four years ago in Washington were full of enjoyment, though that was our last meeting. He invited my wife, my daughter who was working in Washington at the time, and me to dinner and a play. He also drove us to Mt. Vernon, the estate of the first U.S. President Washington. I can see John walking among the flowers of the gardens. John was a friend whose smiling face was beautiful.

From Sadaichiro Okajima (Dora, ’65)
August 26, 2011, from Paris

Farewell at “Min-Min” –
In Memory of John Newmann

“Do you think he will make it to president?”

I threw this straight pitch query at Chan (Professor Otis Cary, then Director of Amherst House). It concerned John Newmann who had just entered his thirties. He had graduated from Amherst College with honors, had been Amherst-Doshisha Fellow, had withstood the upheavals of 1968, and had garnered a doctorate focusing on economic development from the eminent Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Posted by the Ford Foundation to Jakarta, John was in charge of economic development in Indonesia. He returned to the New York headquarters in the early 1970s. In those days, the president of the Foundation was McGeorge Bundy, who had been Kennedy’s right-hand man in his administration. Bundy was a brilliant presence, and his opinion was sought the world over. Might John step into the place in the Ford Foundation that Bundy occupied?

“John? There aren’t any problems in terms of his character and insight,” Chan vouched with a cheerful expression. “John, well, he has such an exceptionally good personality...” he murmured, after a short while, as if he were looking far off into the distance, I remember.

His answer meant “No.” That was apt. John showed no interest in and entirely ignored the attachment to hegemony and tendency toward authority that appear to be pre-requisites for attaining such a position and status. He even seemed to hold these in contempt.

It was soon afterward that John left the Ford Foundation and began occupational training in shiatsu massage. No doubt he is the first and last person who left the Ford Foundation, the veritable pinnacle of the American Establishment, in this way. I asked John, “Why did you leave the Ford Foundation?” His reply was, “The Indonesian people are perfectly capable of developing Indonesia on their own. It’s best to leave it up to them. But we all need each other’s help to deal with the pain in each person’s body.” He was a courageous and gentle man.

Following his training as a shiatsu masseur, he became a middle-aged graduate student at Harvard’s School of Public Health, earning a degree in public health management, and became a specialist in this area. As a consultant, he became an advisor on public health and patient care to many national and state government agencies. He testified at numerous public hearings in the U.S. Congress, where he placed rigorous demands on American public health policy.

My last meeting with John was about six years ago in Kyoto, though we had occasional telephone contact since then. John was visiting Kyoto for the first time in a while, perhaps considering this his last visit, with his friend Judy. Surprisingly, he was staying at the Miyako Hotel. “I wanted to stay at Amherst House, but it doesn’t have a swimming pool. My doctor has ordered me to swim every day, and only the Miyako has a pool,” he said regretfully and apologetically.

For him the stay in Kyoto was a deeply meaningful and happy sentimental journey. He had a full schedule, including a dinner with Amherst House alumni at the Chinese restaurant Tokasaikan. My wife Colette and I joined John and Judy on the last evening before their return to the U.S. I grandly proposed to him, “It’s your last night. I’d like to treat you to dinner. Let’s make it a sumptuous feast. Tell me whatever you’d like!” After a short silence, he responded, “Dora, let’s go to ‘Min-Min’ (a cheap student hangout Chinese diner)!” We promptly went to the Min-Min at the foot of Sanjo Bridge. What fun we had that night. Naturally we had the “luxury three course set” of our days of old in the 1960s: gyoza potstickers, yakisoba fried noodles, and beer. To top it off, wondering “Is it all right to be so extravagant?” we excitedly special-ordered “Genghis Khan,” Mongolian mutton barbeque, which in our student days we would be satisfied and content with just to smell as we occasionally walked by. Was it delicious! Having had our fill of the indulgences of “royalty, aristocracy, and the powerful,” I bid farewell to John and Judy. Our night at Min-Min—that was our last farewell.

John, thank you. I don’t know if there is another world beyond this one. But, as long as people continue to think of someone, that person lives on in this world. John, you’re still living in this world. No question, you’re still alive—!

From Alice, Ellen, Frank, Ann and Beth Cary

John Newmann (1941-2011; Amherst College, 1963; 6th Amherst-Doshisha Fellow, 1964-65) was the embodiment of excellence in liberal arts education combined with his inherent impressive character and qualities, enhanced by personal courage, defined as ‘grace under pressure’ by Ernest Hemingway. After his year as Fellow at Amherst House, his work at the Ford Foundation focused on economic development, leading to a doctorate in economics and international relations. His experience with kidney failure and years of dialysis shifted his focus to patient advocacy, organ transplant, and public health. His foundation in liberal arts no doubt served as the broad basis allowing him to pursue another course. Underlying all of this was the strength of his will and character, coated with warmth, humor, and humility. The grace under pressure he displayed without it seeming obvious was a true mark of his personal courage. We are all indeed fortunate to have had decades of friendship with John. It was sad to learn that Mary Misch Newmann also passed away from cancer in July.


John Newmann was one of the A-D Fellows whom Otis and I, and our children, continued to keep up with over several decades. It is especially distressing when a younger friend dies, and I miss him and Mary. Our earliest visit with him and Mary was in Jakarta, where he was working for the Ford Foundation, not yet affected by kidney disease. It was good to be shown around by two who really knew the city.

Years later, in New York, we were welcomed to their apartment, shared by two lovely little girls (and a home dialysis machine). I can remember visits in Boston, then Reston, Virginia. After Otis and I came to live in Oakland, we had a chance to see him in San Francisco where he was hospitalized for a broken ankle. His daughter Emily, who had donated one of her kidneys to him, was very attentive.

It was a delightful surprise to have him move to Oakland to be near his other daughter Sara, an obstetrician. He was sorry, of course, not to be able to resume his close friendship with Otis, who had died two years earlier, but John and I had several good visits, once with Mary, too, who came to see him and Sara, and with Beth, Ann, Frank, and Ellen.

He always had fond memories of Kyoto, Amherst House, his DAC friends, and of course Louis Armstrong!         
--- Alice Cary

 When John was at Amherst House, I remember thinking he was very cool, and I always enjoyed it when he came to our house, or when we went out with him. He and Mary were such an elegant couple. Thirty years ago, we were happy that John came to our wedding. And just last year, in May 2010, I was again very happy to see him in Oakland. His smile lit up his whole face even when he was unwell.                        
--- Ellen Cary Bearn

John’s sense of humor is what I remember most. He always had a joke to tell and he was good at keeping everyone entertained, even (or perhaps especially) when he was undergoing dialysis. I remember sitting with him as he had dialysis in his home in Brookline. His BIG smile will remain with me always.        
--- Frank Cary

When I took a Southeast Asia trip with two friends in 1968 (modeled on the trips by various A-D Fellows), John and Mary were our hosts in Jakarta. John had some health problems, and I recall Mary describing to me that they had gone to a local healer who instructed them that he should shower with petals from a certain flower, and the steps Mary should take in preparation. They hoped for a healing and a cure through this procedure. Their home was outfitted so nicely with batik and lovely Indonesian art and crafts.

Then, years later, in 1981, when Takayasu (Bate) and I lived in Cambridge and John in Brookline, we celebrated Otis’s 60th birthday with lots of Louis Armstrong music and talk about him and his group of musicians over the years. John and Otis were such lovers of Satchmo and the way he played. What a bond they had!                                    --- Ann Cary

As A-D Fellow, in a remarkable way John immersed himself in all things Amherst House and all things Japan. With their mutual love of Louis Armstrong, I wonder if his playing with Satchmo at age 13 was what made Otis choose John as the Fellow! We enjoyed several cultural trips with John during his year in Kyoto; and Mary often came from Tokyo to visit. But it is the decades-long close friendship with our entire family and with so many of the Amherst House alumni that remains exceptional.

His work for the Ford Foundation brought him to Stanford when I was there, and I sat with him during his dialysis at the hospital. What a wonderful time we had when he and Sara visited Kyoto in 1994. He made sure to visit Otis and Alice when he came to San Francisco. And we were delighted when he moved to Oakland a few years ago. This move gave us a chance to get to know Sara and her husband Doug Sovern, to continue the friendship to the next generation. It was so special to see Mary last year as well.

In his remembrance of Otis, John wrote that he had adopted Otis’s practice of waving farewell until the other person goes out of sight. Long will we wave farewell to you, John, and to Mary, too.                                                       
--- Beth Cary