John Joseph McCann (1932–2023)
This week, we said goodbye to our father, John McCann. He died at the age of 90. Dad lived independently and with all his faculties to the very end of his life. He died in his own home with family present.
Dad was born in New York on April 16, 1932, the second of five boys. His parents were immigrants from Scotland of Irish descent, with melodic Scottish accents that never faded. His father James was a skilled laborer, and his mother Jane a homemaker. His parents’ education ended with elementary school. His father worked for McGraw Hill for many years. An overly modest man (a quality not shared by his son/our father), he declined a promotion to vice president due to his lack of education. They raised their five boys (Jimmy, John, Jerry, Frank, and Joe) in New York City.
Born during the Great Depression, Dad described a humble childhood, with challenges he could recall many decades later (perhaps with some embellishment). As a baby, Dad had pneumonia and was once turned away from a hospital when his parents couldn’t pay the $0.25 bill. One Christmas Eve, his family was evicted from their apartment, out into the snow. Taken in by relatives, one of his little brothers had no bed, and so slept in a dresser drawer. Dad never forgot these early hardships, but he didn’t dwell on them either. He was a good student, and briefly attended seminary before St. John’s University and Manhattan College. He settled on a career in electrical engineering, specializing in telecommunications. He joined the nascent computer industry, where he worked for over half a century. He was raised in a strongly Catholic household. His faith as an adult was something of a mystery.
Dad met our mom Joan (nee Bambach) in February 1961, while dining at the Lorelei on 86th Street in Manhattan, where she was celebrating her brother Joe’s birthday. They didn’t start dating until over a year later, when he found her phone number stuffed in a pocket (or wallet, depending on the telling). After this serendipitous reunion, they married in October 1963 and had five kids. Born with bright ginger hair that turned white in old age, Dad prayed on the eve of his first child’s birth in 1969 that none of his sons would have red hair. It worked, and he ended up with two red-headed daughters, two 2 blonde sons, and one handsome brown-haired son (with hints of red in the summer).
Dad and mom moved around for Dad’s jobs and lived in – among other places – West Berlin, Germany; Huntsville, Alabama; Nutley, NJ; Monroe, CT; Lexington, MA; and Ridgewood, NJ. Later, as empty nesters, he and mom moved back to NYC, living in Harlem and then the Upper West Side. For years they sublet the apartment of a family descended from the Emperor of Ethiopia, a fact that Dad loved. Dad was a fierce medical advocate for our mother during her last years, as her health declined. He took great care of Mom during her decades of severe illness, until she died in 2015. In more recent years, Dad had the companionship of his lovely friend, Laura Reid, whom we now view as part of our family. Laura and Dad were great sources of mutual support.
As an engineer, Dad worked for GE, Bell Labs, and later as a consultant with AD Little and other consulting firms. He traveled widely for work, and experienced (if not always enjoyed) assignments in Taipei, Turkey, Germany, the Bahamas, Australia, and other locations. Once he was offered a job developing a telecom system in Western Australia. He asked his family to vote if we should move to Perth (a unanimous “yes” if memory serves, but he demurred). Early in his career and before kids, he was turned away from working on a submarine due to a failed medical screening (a job which could have landed him on the Thresher…. He’d say, “Lucky for you, kids.”).
Mom was a math teacher and, of course, moved as Dad moved. She worked as much as she could while still raising five children. Dad’s constant travel and generally hands-off approach to parenting meant that she was largely alone raising a family, over the course of three decades. She was a hardworking, intelligent woman and loving wife and mother, though these qualities were at times challenged and even eclipsed by mental illness. But Dad never gave up on her, and took care of her through periods of enormous difficulty and decades of illness. Their relationship was complex but they raised five children who loved them both. Dad showed respect and affection for her through the end of his own life – a testament to his own character and heart.
Dad lived an adventurous life. He and Mom rented a house near the Berlin Wall while it was guarded by East and West German soldiers, and he described hearing gunfire directed at East Germans fleeing. He lived in Alabama during the space-race rocket testing, and witnessed the effects of segregation. He flew on a trans-Pacific flight that lost power to three of four engines; the flight had to dump luggage into the sea before an emergency landing on Midway Island, where he was marooned for days. He participated in torpedo testing in the Bahamas. Years later he claimed to have single-handedly brought down the Stock Exchange for a brief but memorable period (by accidentally disabling the “odd lot ticker”). There were many more stories, which we’d rather he would tell.
Dad was a smart, tall, good-looking and extremely competent guy and (to his children’s surprise) a great dancer. He was friendly and self-confident and had no problem “self advocating” (and advocating for his wife and kids) before it became cool. Despite these strongly attractive personal qualities, his adult social life did not appear to extend beyond his family. He was a man of contradictions: very particular about his appearance, for decades he wore a raincoat that the Salvation Army would not have accepted, and shoes that were ventilated by years of wear on the sides and bottoms.
Dad valued education, and always made sure his kids were in good schools. He worked hard to keep a roof over our heads even during lean times. We almost lost our house to foreclosure at one point. He was involved in a long and difficult lawsuit which went to the Second Circuit and then Supreme Court on appeal and which, paradoxically, he both won and lost. But he never saw a dime from it, and his lawyers, working on a contingency fee basis, were left with over $1 million of unpaid legal fees (in 1980s dollars). He had prostate cancer. He suffered from anxiety and occasional panic attacks. We did not know about many of these things until years or even decades after the fact, a reflection of dad’s enormous fortitude and self-sufficiency. Sometimes we wish that he had been less self-sufficient. He was a consummate planner and master of financial aid/insurance/Medicaid/etc. who enjoyed strategizing the educations and careers of his children and grandchildren.
Dad was passionate about many things and rarely shy about sharing his opinions. In recent years when his colorful and contrarian political opinions diverged from some of his family, he would proudly reference his “five star emails,” fully knowing that the “five stars” (*****) put in the subject line facilitated email blocking filters. But with his good humor, this did not bother him.
Dad had a wicked sense of humor that lasted to the very end of his life. Just last week, Dad recounted his rescue of Louie the dog from an oncoming taxi. When Liz asked, “Why have I never heard this story before?” without missing a beat Dad responded, “Discrimination against the elderly.” Not a bad joke for a guy on hospice.
In lieu of flowers, if you would like to toast our father, please tell a funny (and maybe slightly off-color) joke, send an angry email to your congressman, drink a glass of boxed Rhine wine, take half of your breakfast omelet to go, tell someone you’re descended from Irish kings, wear your favorite sweater until the sleeves get holes, send your family emails of your favorite news articles, and be generally supportive and loving to your family. He would appreciate each of these gestures.
Dad is predeceased by his wife and our mother, Joan McCann, his parents and his brothers. He is survived by his five children Elizabeth (Sterling) Daines of Ridgewood, N.J.; Jim McCann (Jennifer Clowe) of Hoboken, N.J.; Will (Madeline) McCann of Jersey City, N.J.; David (Jennifer) McCann of Saunderstown, R.I.; and Kathleen McCann of Manhattan; 10 grandchildren Jackson, Delphine, Nicholas, Susannah, Colin, Sadie, Zachary, Frederic, Shea, and Louisa; his sister-in-law Cathy McCann; several nieces and a nephew; his close friend and companion of many years, Laura Reid; and also by many other beloved members of our extended family.
John, Dad, Grandpa, Grandpa Mustache, Uncle John…. He influenced our lives in ways too numerous to count. He always will be loved, quoted, and missed by all of us.
A mass will be offered at Our Lady of Grace RC Church in Hoboken, NJ on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Beginning at 10:30am.
Prior to the mass, a visitation will be held at the Failla-McKnight Memorial Home; 533 Willow Avenue, Hoboken, NJ on Saturday, March 18, 2023. Beginning at 9am and concluding at 10am.
Parking available in rear of memorial home. Off Sixth Street, between Park Avenue and Willow.