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John W. McCurry

May 21, 1929 — February 1, 2022

John W. McCurry


John W. McCurry passed into the nearer presence of Christ on February 1, 2022 after a long illness.  A beloved husband, father and grandfather, John is survived by his only child and daughter, Cathleen (“Cathy”) McCurry Milliken (husband Charles) of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, and his granddaughters, Catherine and Rebecca Milliken, both of St. Paul, Minnesota.  John is further survived by his brother, Daniel McCurry of Las Vegas, Nevada, along with nieces, grandnieces and grandnephews.  John was the devoted husband of the late Anna Mary Shields (“Ann”) McCurry.  In addition to his cherished wife, John was preceded in death by his dear parents, Carter Tate (“Tate”) McCurry and Clara Mildred Mills McCurry, and two sisters:  Carol Ruth McCurry Sodorff, formerly of Moscow, Idaho; and Alice Gail McCurry Larson, formerly of the Seattle area.

John accomplished much in this life, tackling every responsibility head-on and with intensity, but more than anything, he was deeply committed to providing and caring for his family.  He also had a heart of gold with a sincere desire to help those in need.  Throughout his working years, John went out of his way to lend assistance, both personally and through his position, to people facing various difficulties.

John was born in 1929 in a small house at 660 Larch Street in Potlatch in north Idaho.  Potlatch was once a company town, owned and operated by Potlatch Lumber Company, which became Potlatch Forests, Inc. in 1931.  The company used to boast that Potlatch was home of the world’s largest white pine sawmill.  John’s father, Tate, was a laborer who worked grueling hours at the sawmill in order to support his family.  In 1939, at the height of the Great Depression, Tate McCurry had somehow managed to save enough money for a down payment on a small family farm on the outskirts of town.  Although the family had very little money, the farm provided plenty of nutritious food during hard times.  John’s dad continued to toil at the sawmill despite all of the additional farm work.  He worked as a “gyppo” stacking lumber, which meant that he was paid by the piece instead of by the hour.  Gyppo work incentivized employees to handle as much lumber as possible, as fast as they could, but it took a huge physical toll.  He fully depended on John’s help with the farm, so from an early age, John did a man’s work by his father’s side.  As a teenager, John also worked at the sawmill during school breaks.  He was big and strong for his age, so he was put on the “greenchain” where he pulled and stacked heavy, freshly-cut green lumber.  John’s parents imparted a tremendous work ethic that lasted the rest of his life.  John believed in the value of and inherent honor in hard work and held himself to a high standard.  Even in retirement, John approached every task with characteristic resolve, tenacity, and a keen sense of responsibility. 

Life in Potlatch was tough, but the town had outstanding schools and John received an excellent education.  He frequently remembered his teachers with much appreciation.  He went to Rock Creek School, a one-room school for grades 1-8, and graduated from Potlatch High School in 1947.  John aspired to attend college, but limited financial resources made this goal nearly impossible.  Knowing that he would inevitably be drafted, John enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1948 and chose training as a high-speed radio operator to code and de-code messages between command headquarters and combat units.  Just as he was preparing to leave for duty in Austria, the Korean War broke out.  Suddenly, John found himself on a troop ship crossing the Pacific and bound for Japan, thousands of miles from home and about to witness unimaginable horrors.  As they approached Yokohama, John was informed that he would be the leader of a 3-man radio communications team, part of X Corps, which was comprised of the 1st Marine Division and the 3rd and 7th Infantry Divisions of the U.S. Army.  His first assignment was the landing at Inchon in September of 1950, a successful amphibious invasion by U.S. troops that led to the recapture of Seoul.  From there, John and his team had a continuum of field assignments throughout North and South Korea, moving with whatever combat units to which they were attached.  When in action, they operated 24 hours a day, slept when they could, and survived on C-rations leftover from World War II.

In the fall of 1950 while on a special assignment, John sustained a compression fracture of his lower spine, a serious injury that nearly left him permanently paralyzed and resulted in a lifetime of pain.  Without the benefit of sophisticated medical equipment, the extent of John’s injury could not be determined.  After some time in a MASH unit, a doctor informed John that he would be sent back to the U.S. on a hospital ship.  Unfortunately, the ship sailed before medical release papers were submitted.  John eventually improved and, although still seriously injured, his superiors decided that he was well enough to return to duty.  With a still-broken back in November-December of 1950 and only 21 years old, John became a full participant in the battle and evacuation of the Chosin Reservoir where, on the Chinese border, vastly outnumbered American troops were surrounded and faced mass slaughter in sub-zero temperatures.  It was one of the most horrific events in U.S. military history.

John was appalled by the degree of human suffering that he saw in Korea – the plight of refugees and orphans in particular.  One of John’s most important possessions was a photograph of him with a lost Korean orphan.  John was able to secure care for the little boy, but the memory of this poor child troubled him for the rest of his life.  John remained in Korea with on-going field attachments until 1951.  He was awarded a commendation ribbon for meritorious achievement, the Korean Service Medal with five bronze service stars, and a meritorious unit citation.  John was honorably discharged from the Army in 1952 with the rank of sergeant and recognized as a disabled veteran. 

With help from the G.I. Bill, John resumed his studies at Washington State College (now University).  He declared a major in business administration and a minor in forestry with plans for a career in forest/lumber management.  John met Ann, the love of his life, when he was a student in Pullman.  They were married on July 31, 1953 and had a loving partnership for 55 years – they were a great team.

John graduated in 1956 with honors and membership in the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society for business majors.  Despite good grades and a fine military record, John struggled to find work in forest management because, as a disabled vet, companies assumed he couldn’t handle the rigors of the job.  Finally, the General Electric Company selected John for their competitive business training program.  His first executive position was in Richland, Washington at G.E.’s Hanford Atomic Products Operation.  While in Richland, Ann and John welcomed their only child and daughter in 1963. 

John was promoted quickly and held various positions within G.E.  In 1965, John moved with his wife and daughter to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he was manager of business information systems using early computer applications for financial planning.  In 1966, while still in Milwaukee, John broadened his experience in finance when he went to work for the Allis-Chalmers Company, a manufacturer of heavy construction equipment.  Initially, he was the manager of budgets and measurements in the construction machinery division and then became controller in 1967.  John returned to G.E. as manager of marketing forecasts and systems for their medical products division in Milwaukee.

In 1969, a unique and life-changing career opportunity presented itself when John was selected by Governor Daniel Evans to become deputy budget director for the State of Washington.  Regarding this as a new challenge and a chance to apply his skills in an entirely different setting, John moved his family to Olympia, Washington in the spring of 1969.  In 1972, John was named state budget director with responsibility for preparing the Governor’s budget, presenting it to the state legislature for passage, and overseeing the allocation of funds to state agencies.  In this capacity, he successfully applied his financial skills while building the scope of his résumé.  However, it was the human aspect of the job that made a lasting impression on John.  He met people in all kinds of distress who lived in state institutions for which he made funding decisions; thereafter, he remained acutely aware of those in need and did what he could to help. 

John worked in state government until 1973 when Exxon hired him as business planning manager for their nuclear energy affiliate in Bellevue, Washington.  In 1977, he was transferred to Exxon’s corporate headquarters in New York City as manager-affiliate liaison for Exxon Nuclear.  John spent the remainder of his career with Exxon in the New York area and enjoyed a variety of interesting assignments.  John was promoted to senior advisor in the operations division with assignments in research and engineering, science and technology, and South African relations.  His work in South Africa during the early 1980’s was especially meaningful to him because it focused on ending apartheid.  John was called upon to implement the Sullivan principles (a code of conduct for businesses developed by the Baptist minister and civil-rights leader, the Rev. Leon Sullivan) in order to establish equal and fair employment practices for all workers.  He collaborated with Rev. Sullivan and met with Bishop Desmond Tutu.

John then became public affairs manager for Exxon Enterprises with responsibilities for media relations, charitable giving oversight, and government relations.  At the time of his retirement in 1989, John was a senior advisor for Exxon International in Florham Park, New Jersey.  In this role, he travelled extensively with corporate responsibility for public and government relations in southeast Asia, Japan, and Australia.  John remained with Exxon for a total of 16 years.  After he formally retired, Exxon re-hired John as an independent contractor to organize and produce annual meetings of Exxon’s board of directors, which brought more opportunities for international travel.  He truly enjoyed meeting colleagues from all over the world and experiencing their cultures.  These trips resulted in lasting friendships.

John left employment completely in the mid-1990’s, but maintained a busy life in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where he and Ann had retired earlier in 1989.  He enjoyed frequent rounds of golf at the Surf Club for the next 25 years and was active in volunteer work.  John

contributed his financial expertise to Tara Hall, a residential and educational facility for neglected and abused boys.  John then took it upon himself to become a certified tax preparer in order to give free tax assistance to elderly and low-income citizens.  He was delighted whenever he could find much-needed tax savings and refunds for these folks.  A strong believer in education, John was qualified in adult literacy and taught reading to adults in the hope that this would improve people’s lives.  He was also a mentor and benefactor to a number of individuals along the way.

Yard work was the bane of John’s existence, but he took pride in well-maintained landscaping.  He single-handedly did all of his own yard work (to perfection) well into his 80’s.  Even in retirement and at an advanced age, John’s work ethic and high standards remained notable characteristics – he couldn’t stand being idle.  An exceptionally disciplined person, John was committed to physical fitness and loved jogging – and later aerobic walking – on the beach.  On alternate days, he invariably worked out at his gym until his late 80’s.  Remarkably, John was a three-time cancer survivor. 

John was an active member of the Episcopal Church and had a quiet but abiding Christian faith that was always important to him.  He never doubted God’s presence and grace during life’s greatest challenges.  John was also a wonderful husband and father as well as an adoring and proud grandfather.  He was completely dedicated to Ann as her sole caregiver during her final years and did everything within his power to ease her suffering.  Her passing from cancer was a deep, personal loss from which he never fully recovered.  Now, along with Ann, John is missed greatly but remains in our hearts forever.  Through the mercy of God, may John rest in peace and rise in glory, reunited with loved ones who have gone before.

John donated to many causes, but placed a priority on organizations that serve veterans, children in crisis, and his church.  Memorials may be sent to Episcopal Relief and Development; the Duke University Cancer Center in Durham, North Carolina; trustworthy charities dedicated to veterans and children in need; or St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

A funeral service for John will be held on July 31, 2023 at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  Later that day, he and Ann will be laid to rest together at Riverview Cemetery.  Coeur d’Alene held special significance for both of them because this is where John proposed to Ann.  Over the years, they returned to Lake Coeur d’Alene many times, initially as avid water skiers when they were younger.  Later, in retirement, Ann and John made a point of travelling all the way back “home” to Coeur d’Alene from South Carolina to reminisce and enjoy the amenities.  July 31, 2023 would have been Ann and John’s 70th anniversary.  Our gathering on that day is not just a farewell.  More importantly, we will come together to lovingly remember and fully celebrate these wonderful people and give thanks for their presence in our lives.

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