I met John in the summer of 1979 when I joined Bunker Ramo fresh out of college with the infamous College Recruit Class. After a long summer of 'training' - i.e. drinking, we took our places on various programming staffs. John and I worked under Mark Blumenthal. John stood out right away. First, he was a big guy. Then there was the Oklahoma drawl. He sure did talk funny. Turns out he really was funny. He had a tremendously quick wit. He'd put a funny spin on almost any situation. From stories about the winters stationed in Caribou, Maine with the Air Force to the antics of his landlord, Gene the Butcher, John kept me constantly laughing. Even his taste in music was fun. His favorite singer was Kinky Friedman. He quoted Kinky a lot. One of my favorite stories recounts a customer service call back in Oklahoma. He flew out and rented a car, then proceeded to hit a deer or a moose or something. It came right through the windshield and ended up in the passenger seat. John found his way to a pay phone and called Hertz. He explained that he'd had a little accident and needed another car and then added "and you can keep the ROAST on the front seat". I laughed 'till I cried. That one story alone has had me laughing through tears dozens of times. And John was good for hundreds of those stories.
John could take a joke too, even those at his expense. When Carmen Fidducia and John opened the ISC office in Derby - Carmen joked that we had to make sure that we laid out the office such that there would be a "Lowry-width' between all partitions and computer systems. As I said, at that time he was a big guy.
I'm not sure what happened, but John decided he'd lose that extra weight. Well, once John set his mind to something he got it done. Suddenly he began shedding pounds FAST. He'd brag to me about how he'd ridden his stair stepper the equivalent of one round trip up and down the Empire State Building every day. Between that and riding his bicycle all over, he soon approached the string bean size I'd seen in some early photos of his training days when he started at Bunker.
John's career in computers began at Bunker Ramo as a service technician. But he quickly developed an affinity for programming. As a computer programmer, I'd say John was one of the two most brilliant coders I've ever met. The other was Carmen. Carmen would churn out code faster than I could type it in - and I can type FAST. I think Carmen thought he got paid by the byte. John wouldn't program quite that fast - but his work was cleaner, well structured and unlike the rest of us - even well-documented. Very professional. John quickly rose through the ranks at ISC, eventually commanding his own development center in Burlington. He surrounded himself with top quality people. His systems development work for ISC kept us at the forefront of the banking terminal systems market. Although our development headquarters were in Spokane, there was no denying that the Burlington office housed the minds that squeezed every last dollar of profit out of our products. John had an enviable work ethic. He'd spend long hours making sure that his customers were happy. Likewise, he spent even more time mentoring his employees and ensuring that they were challenged and treated fairly. He was a programmer who, by nature of his exceptional abilities, also happened to be thrust into managing people. But he was always one of us. Always challenging management (aka PINHEADS) to treat his team fairly. It was a good thing that John was so smart - because as far as he was concerned you could do it his way, or you could do it wrong! His way was almost always right.
Until today, I'd never met John's family. But I knew about them through John. He talked about you all the time. I remember how happy he was that his folks were moving out here to live. I remember him joking about how his Mom was pulling on her Nikes and backpack and heading back to college. He was very proud of that. He was even more proud of Margaret and 'bro-Paul'. I remember how scared he was when Paul got sick and how much he wanted to do everything he could to pull him through. Well, Paul's still here - as usual John helped get the job done. And even then, it was with a bit of humor. Once when he was talking about Paul's illness he told me that Paul's meds would come packaged in a container with the Radiation symbol on it - true to form he found a way to lighten even that up - saying that no one would ever come pump out his septic system again, because it was a "toxic waste dump".
As sometimes happens, John and I fell out of touch. I moved away, got married, had a family. We grew apart. Two years ago, I tracked him down and asked if he'd join me at a picnic some friends (ex-Bunker Ramo employees) threw every year in Rhode Island. As also often happens with good friends, we picked up right where we'd left off. It was so good to see him again and reminisce. He was as funny as ever. We chatted on and off after that. Then I got a call from him saying 'Bill, I'm dying'. John wasn't one to exaggerate. I knew this was serious. By the fall, John was no longer answering his cell phone and making jokes about the dogs. It was pretty awkward to keep calling his home every now and then, hopeful but fearing the worst, to ask his Dad how he was doing. I can't thank Mr. Lowry enough for his patience and understanding in keeping me posted. I'm sure it was difficult to have to deal with these calls from a stranger. I wish we had spent more time together. I know he was lonely at times. I wish I'd gotten to see him again before he passed.
My Mother passed away the night before John. When I got the call from Paul on Thursday, I had just gotten back from the funeral home and I was pretty shell-shocked. After hanging up the phone, the first thing I thought of was - He and Mom are up there in God's waiting room just having the biggest laugh together. True to form, even at such a sad time memories of John make me smile.
I'm grateful to Paul for getting in touch with me and asking me to share with you some of the things that made John such a special man and such a good friend. I hope his family knows what a profound and positive impact he made on so many lives. Those of us who worked with John and call him our friend certainly are better for having known him. You will all remain in my prayers.
~Bill Carbone, April 18, 2007~