John Strother

Obituary of John Alan Strother

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Long-time Princeton resident John Alan Strother, age 94, died in Princeton Hospital on Monday, June 27, of cardiac arrest brought on by a sudden acute pneumonia infection. John was a prodigiously-talented, strong, versatile, kind, and generous-spirited man who will be deeply missed by his family and friends.

John Alan Strother was born on December 27, 1927, in Hartford, Connecticut to Alfred Carter Strother and Mary Stoughton Parsons Strother, of Windsor, Connecticut. John grew up in Windsor, where he attended Windsor Grammar School, Loomis School, and Windsor High School. John graduated from Windsor High School in June 1945, spent the summer in military training at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, and was sent home in August after the Japanese surrender in World War II. He returned to Army service when he was drafted after he turned 18 in December. John served in the Army from January 1946 to July 1947. During his Army service, John completed Basic Combat Training at Camp Crowder, Missouri, and Advanced Individual Training in radio and electronics at the Army Signal Corps in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, and then worked as a technician at the Army’s Fort Myer military base in Arlington, Virginia.

After his discharge from the Army, John resumed his studies at Trinity College in Hartford, where he had completed his first semester term in the fall of 1945. At Trinity, John was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Pi Sigma, a national physics honor society. In June 1950, John graduated from Trinity with a Bachelor of Science degree, with honors in mathematics.

In July 1950, John accepted a job offer from the U. S. Navy’s Underwater Sound Laboratory in New London, Connecticut. John worked for two years at the Underwater Sound Laboratory as a physicist in the Electromagnetics Division’s Infrared Branch.

In the spring of 1952, John was awarded a National Science Foundation Predoctoral Graduate Fellowship for graduate work in electrical engineering at Princeton University. John completed his Master of Science degree in Engineering at Princeton in October 1954.

In the summer of 1954, John accepted a job offer from the Radio Corporation of America (“RCA”). John was eventually assigned to RCA’s Astro-Electronics Division in East Windsor, New Jersey. At Astro, John was a key member of the team that designed, built, and tested TIROS 1, the first weather satellite to successfully orbit the earth and transmit photographs of the earth’s cloud cover back to ground stations (TIROS is the acronym for Television Infrared Observation Satellite). During the launch of TIROS on April 1, 1960, and the satellite’s initial orbits of the earth, John was part of the mission control team at NASA, manager of the TIROS project. TIROS, a 270-pound, 42-by-19 inch satellite, sheathed in 9000 solar cells, successfully proved the concept of feasibility of weather stations in space. TIROS took nearly 23,000 photographs of the earth’s cloud cover during its useful life of almost exactly the three months that had been predicted. There is a replica of TIROS 1 in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D. C.

John continued to work as an engineer and project manager at Astro-Electronics until his retirement in 1984, except for an approximately five-year stint in the mid-1960s at Electro-Mechanical Research (EMR) Telemetry, first in Sarasota, Florida, and then back in Princeton. At EMR, John was on the team that successfully designed and built encoders for the U. S. Navy that were considered significant for national defense purposes.

At Astro-Electronics, John worked on successive generations of the TIROS weather satellite as well as on highly-classified aerospace projects for NASA. While at Astro-Electronics, John received two patents for original product design.

After his retirement, John continued to lead an active life, exploring and developing his many interests. John had a natural affinity for music. As an avocation, he played the cornet, trumpet, and piano. Louis Armstrong inspired him to take up the cornet and trumpet, and he remained a lifelong fan of jazz. John also enjoyed a range of classical music and considered Johann Sebastian Bach the greatest of all classical composers. During his retirement, John composed songs and created electronic versions of favorite Christmas carols.

John also had a lifelong fascination with cars. After his retirement, he completed a number of race car driving courses at the Skip Barber Racing School. He eventually began work on designing a more efficient, less-polluting internal combustion car engine. John described his engine as a reciprocating internal combustion engine operating on a two-stroke cycle comprised of power stroke, and abbreviated exhaust, intake, and compression phases. John explained the benefits of his engine as follows: “The combination of a full expansion stroke with an abbreviated compression phase can offer efficiency superior to that of existing engines. Due to flexibility in the amount of pressurized air that can be introduced during intake, and because of the recirculation of relatively large amounts of exhaust gas, cylinder temperatures can be reduced, as can the emission of undesirable exhaust products.” In 2015, John received a patent for the engine, and in 2019, the patent was revised according to his specifications.

John enjoyed sports. During his teenage years, he played baseball and football. As an adult, he bowled and golfed. He was an avid lifelong fan of the New York Yankees, originally inspired by his hero and role model Lou Gehrig. He also cheered for the Mets and the Phillies, the Giants and the Jets.

John was also a talented woodworker. He built a workshop in the basement of his Princeton home and for many years, he took pleasure in crafting furniture for the home, including several sets of built-in bookshelves and a mantelpiece.

John enjoyed a rewarding, fulfilling personal life. On June 16, 1951, he married Helene Therese McCurdie, whom he met at the Navy’s Underwater Sound Laboratory and whom he would call Terry or Ter. John and Terry moved to Princeton, New Jersey in the summer of 1952. After John began work at RCA, they spent six years in Mercerville, New Jersey, and then in the summer of 1960, moved back to Princeton, where John and Terry spent the next sixty-plus years.

John and Terry had three daughters, Kathleen (Kate) Louise (1953), Jean Marie (1954), and Nancy Ann (1959), whom they raised with a combination of deep, abiding love and measured discipline. They were devoted to their four grandchildren, Jean’s two daughters, Teresa Kim and Bonnie Lee Schmittberger, and Nancy’s son and daughter, Christopher Laurence and Jennifer Christina Kelly, with whom they could be more relaxed and indulgent.

John and Terry enjoyed traveling. Many family vacations were spent in New England, with excursions to Montreal and Toronto, and eventually in their own summer cottage, a log cabin in Greenville, Maine, on Moosehead Lake. During these years, John and Terry occasionally took vacations without the kids, including trips to Bermuda and Jamaica. After the daughters were grown, John and Terry expanded their horizons, exploring the Eastern seaboard, from the Maritime Provinces to Savannah, Bar Harbor to the DelMar Peninsula and Outer Banks, and the West Coast, the length of California, the Pacific Northwest, the desert Southwest, and the U. S. and Canadian Rockies. After John’s retirement, they took three car trips across Europe, plotting their own itineraries, and exploring Belgium, France, and Germany, and Austria, Italy, and Switzerland.

On June 16, 2021, John and Terry celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. John’s devotion to his wife and genuinely compassionate nature were evident in his dedicated care of Terry after she developed Alzheimer’s dementia in her early eighties. John was a miracle of patience, resourcefulness, and resilience, especially during the difficult years of the covid pandemic. Fortunately, despite the ravages of Alzheimer’s, Terry’s essential kindness and empathetic nature remained. John was deeply saddened by the loss of his beloved wife earlier this year, on January 23, 2022. He was still grieving for her at the time of his own death.

John is survived by his three devoted daughters and their spouses, Jean’s husband Richard (Dick) Tushingham and Nancy’s husband Laurence (Larry) Kelly; his four grandchildren, Teresa Kim Harrold and Bonnie Lee Marlow, Christopher Laurence and Jennifer Christina Kelly; and his four great-grandchildren, Nolan Eugene Harrold, Violet Paige and Ashton Paul Kelly, and Riley Elizabeth Marlow. John is also survived by his brother, Gordon Henry Strother, and his two sisters, Mary Alice Peachman and Margaret (Peg) Jane Gillies.

This fine, accomplished, multitalented, loving and beloved man will be laid to rest in Princeton Cemetery on July 7 next to the grave of his cherished wife. Those who wish to honor his memory are encouraged to make gifts in his name to charities of their choice.

Services are private and will be held on Thursday, July 7th at 11:30am.

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