A Life Well Lived-John Dickinson
John Dickinson was born October 23, 1944 in Morganza, LA to Linda Leblanc Dickinson and Allie L. Dickinson. He left us for a better place on June 9, 2022 after being ill for several months. He grew up in Baton Rouge on Lorraine Street and attended St. Gerard Elementary and Redemptorist High School. He was a member of the RHS class of 1962. He earned BA (1967) and MA (1972) degrees in Journalism from LSU. He met Dot Daniel in the summer of 1966 when she was just out of high school, and he was a college senior. They worked together at the Louisiana Department of Hospitals. During their summer romance they used to kiss on the elevator on their coffee breaks. These were quick pecks because it was not a tall building.
John, a traditionalist, asked for Dot’s hand in marriage in 1968 and her dad was sure that she wouldn’t finish her education if she got married. He made John promise to “allow” Dot to graduate. He kept his promise. It was his father-in-law who gave him the nickname of “bird man,” because of his skinny legs.
John graduated from LSU during the Vietnam War and was drafted but didn’t pass the physical since he had some leg issues because of his polio legs. He accepted a job at Exxon and trained there for a career in instrumentation. At Exxon, he was given another nickname of “John Boy.” It seems that some of the guys would take a short nap during lunch hour and the television show, The Waltons, was popular at the time. They would say: Good night, John Boy in jest, but it stuck. He retired at age 55, because he could! He sold real estate for a while but gave that up because of the stressful competitive nature of the work. He wanted to relax in retirement and enjoy his home and family.
After nine years of marriage, Dot and John’s first born, Greg, arrived. A couple of years later, Gretchen made her appearance. Religion played a part of their marriage and after several years of worshipping at different churches, Dot became a Catholic. They lived off Highland Road near their beloved LSU and the kids went to St. Aloysius School. The neighborhood kids will remember that he used to load about a dozen of them in the back of our Suburban and go for Icees on hot summer afternoons. In today’s time he probably would have been ticketed for the kids not wearing seat belts.
Education was very important to John because he felt that it gave one a broad view of the world. He was very proud of both of his children for their college educations of two degrees each! He bragged on them every chance he got. However, the grandchildren were his most treasured babies. Children of Gretchen and Jeremy Hurst, Olive and Pearl brought him so much joy. He was the greatest cheerleader of his beautiful grand girls.
He played fairies, made “potion”, and got into all sorts of mischief with Olive and Pearl in the backyard! The past two years he saw them every school day since they came before school for Granny Dot’s pancakes and waffles. He had a way of making them smile. Paw Paw loved to sing Karaoke and once in a restaurant Olive and Pearl got under the table in embarrassment when he got up to sing his rendition of Jimmy Buffett! He and Olive would sit on the red porch swing and solve the problems of the world. No telling what they said!! He adored them both and often commented on how his life was so blessed by them. He wanted them to want for nothing.
John loved sports but couldn’t participate in team sports because of his leg issues, but he was a great tennis player and won a couple of “walking” races around the LSU Lakes. He dabbled at golf, but as he aged, that became difficult for him, too. He loved watching LSU sports on TV and loved the Pelican’s basketball games. He gave up tickets to live sporting events because he couldn’t walk well. With age, those legs were a constant source of limitation for him. Throughout it all, he loved to go dancing and “cut a rug” with friends and a live band, even if he could only sway to the music. He loved music and nothing gave him greater pleasure than to listen to Greg play piano or oboe. He never missed a performance. He often stated that he wished that instead of trying to play sports, he could have learned to play the piano. He would have been a good musician.
John and Dot traveled the world…Europe three times, much of the USA and east and west parts of Canada and Nova Scotia. He also made sure that his family had nice vacations. Navarre Beach was a popular summer destination. No one in the family will forget the time they went to Washington DC for a week and trudged mostly on foot around the entire city. And then there was the time they rented a cabin in the Rocky Mountains only to be plagued with mice. A switch to a tent pad on a slant ended them in a pile of people. They were not experienced campers! Along the way they met friends with whom they stay in touch. It was a great heartache for him when he just couldn’t do it anymore because of mobility difficulties.
They enjoyed a wonderful circle of friends who were always kind and considerate of him. He treasured the times spent with his friends both old and new. If John was your friend, you were lucky because he would do anything for you. He had a dry and clever wit, and you wanted to listen when he talked. He was a gentleman and was good at making other people feel special by being interested in their activities and stories.
John liked to “tinker” around in the garage and made bird houses out of scrap wood. Someone remarked that he should sell his creations and his comment was that he only made them for people he liked! When he became ill, he was working on five birdhouses. He was not sure for whom he was making them, but they would be gifted to someone all the same. He liked to include scripture and a cross on them. The birdhouses were painted and stenciled with birds, flowers, sometimes musical notes. Once he built a very tall one for his front porch and called it Trump Tower. Birds make nests in that birdhouse every spring. He could fix anything and had every tool you could want. He spent many hours in his garage organizing and labeling every tool, piece of hardware and container. If you needed it and Home Depot didn’t have it, John probably had it in his garage. He never believed in paying someone to do something he could do for himself.
One of his favorite things to do was to eat dinner out at a restaurant. In retirement going to restaurants was a frequent activity. He became friends with the waitstaff at his favorite places and was happiest when the iced tea glass was kept full and there were lots of lemons on the table. He appreciated a good meal and good service.
John was a faithful member of the St. John choir and never missed a rehearsal or service. He loved to sing, even if Olive and Pearl told him that his singing was awful!! He would just laugh and keep on singing. He was a Eucharistic Minister to Lane Nursing Home once a month. He was also a member of the Men’s Club where he made some good friends. He often volunteered to prepare meals for the meetings even though he didn’t know how to cook. Dot finally put her foot down and told him to stop volunteering because she was doing all the work.
John was a co-author of a walking guidebook for the “new church” at St. John’s. His journalism background made him a clever wordsmith. He had a way with words on paper.
The Pandemic stopped John in his tracks. If awards were given out, he would have won the award for being the “best quarantiner” in Zachary. He did everything possible to avoid becoming ill. For months he wiped down with bleach every item that came from a grocery order before it was brought into the house. It’s ironic that he developed so many health problems including the lymphoma that eventually took him from us. He tried so hard to stay healthy but ignored some symptoms because he just didn’t like going to doctors.
John had some eccentricities that some may have thought odd. He was a little cantankerous and stubborn when he made up his mind about something. One could almost set a clock by his daily habits. He didn’t do mornings very well, but he had a motto that one must accomplish at least one productive activity each day. He loved a good bargain and often Amazon packages would arrive that no one remembered ordering. He was the Amazon King. Dot regretted teaching him how to order online as he would buy cases of unneeded items. He wore old comfortable clothes and if you saw him around town in his old white truck and his old clothes, you might have thought him a homeless person. His family teased him about that, but he didn’t care what other people thought of his appearance. He was true to his own self to the end. Once there was a time early in the marriage that he found a sale on paint and he bought 10 gallons of orange paint and proceeded to paint the fence, the swing, and the raised flower beds in the back yard with that bright orange color. To his dying day, he loved orange!! John was loving and generous to a fault. He respected achievement and hard work, because that’s how he lived his life.
He was also a very private individual. He was happiest sitting on his porch swing
that he made from some old mahogany given to him by a friend. That swing went with Dot and John wherever they lived. When the move to Zachary occurred in 2010, the buyers of the Baton Rouge house wanted him to leave the swing as part of the deal, but he turned down the offer because he didn’t want to move without his swing. The porch swing was an important part of his day….1 glass of wine, peanuts, and Goldfish. How could he not have his swing? He loved his backyard and fed the birds daily. They are probably wondering where he is! I am sure they are starving. He fed them a lot because he loved to watch them from the swing.
When he received a cancer diagnosis in late March he didn’t want anyone to know he was sick. He didn’t want the spotlight for any reason. He didn’t want pity, but needed those prayers so Dot told a few people what was going on because the prayers were so coveted for healing. He refused visitors who were not family because he didn’t want people seeing him in a bad state. He loved his friends and wanted them to remember him as a fun loving, happy, vibrant person. He suffered at the end and even though he was told that he was “curable” cancer took him anyway. He lived a good life and those who knew him will miss him greatly. He was a deeply spiritual person, but was private about that, too. He was a Christian all his life and left an example to his children and grandchildren of how to be a good person. He thanked God every day for his many blessings. He believed that what we have is a gift from God. He often wondered why he was blessed in so many ways when he witnessed so much heartache in the world.