A farewell to John

December 23, 2014

Dear Editor:

My husband threw me a surprise 50th birthday party a few years ago. It was the thing I asked him never to do, but he didn’t let a little thing like my wish guide him. He also was not a slave to inclusion…he asked only those he knew I loved. If he missed someone, he was sorry…but he wasn’t going to risk asking a mere acquaintance, however delightful. For my 50th, the price of admission was love. Walking through the door of that party, after my inclination of turning around and bolting back out was suppressed, I saw the beaming faces of my friends. There, a head above the rest, was the benevolent aspect of John Sears. I’m finding it hard to accept I’ll never be greeted by that smiling face again.

The first time I met John was at a party, a fate I believe I share with thousands. He was invited just every every everywhere….and not because he was famous or had a famous name. Quite simply, he could always be counted on to be gracious, intelligent, charming. Review quickly in your head who you know who can always be counted on to be all of those things, especially at the same time. This party of our first meeting, a Christmas Party of long ago, had the bar set up on the back deck. Very enterprising, using the cold Beacon Hill December as a drinks cooler. As I stood and stared at the staggering array of liquor bottles on the table, a calm and erudite voice behind me asked ‘may I offer you some assistance?’ I turned to find this tall and courtly stranger and within minutes we were talking about my country, Norway, I’m not even sure how. He spoke knowledgably and humorously of certain local events in my hometown, Oslo, and expressed some concern for several recent and fairly controversial decisions by the Norwegian government. I believe had I come from Swaziland, he would have been able to do the same. I stood and talked on that frigid deck until my teeth chattered. I went back into the party, rudely interrupted my husband’s conversation saying ‘come meet my new friend John’.

The warm friendship which began that night was filled with festivity, but there is a stand alone memory. As another now dearly missed neighbor, Alec Leighton, grew more homebound, we began to bring celebrations to his armchair. One year we decided to put on a Burns Night, complete with bagpipes and readings from the great poet. Of course John was invited. He didn’t know the Murphy-Leighton clan and didn’t have much information as to the form for the evening. He didn’t need it. He came up the stairs with his game face on and a heavy briefcase. In the case were photographs of family members with a link to Scotland and from the era of Robert Burns. He produced a well-thumbed book of Burns’ poems and took his turn reading with gusto. After my husband read his part with a faux Scots accent, John joined him….a kind of battle of the prep school boys.  The accents grew more competitively Scottish and somewhere Robert Burns rolled in his grave….but the delighted face of our nonagenarian host was echoed by all in the room.

There are many who knew John better, longer, and more intimately than I. I’m sure the legion of people who admired his political work, his years of public service, his fierce commitment to civic duty, will write fitting tributes in honor of this superb public servant. Many who held him dear will write of this staunch and stalwart gentleman, kind neighbor, devoted friend. I’m here to add a few lines about his elegance of mind, his deep and enriching ability to discuss poetry as well as politics, his surprising flexibility in dealing with the unexpected, and incorporate the new.

Every year on Christmas Eve, he joined us for a glass of glogg, a warm spiced wine with a mule kick.  It is how I love to think of him; surrounded by good friends, articulating some eloquent point, a plate of grav laks on his knee. There is no way to fill the chair he now leaves empty.

Marie Francis

Chestnut Street

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