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John D. Hewitt ’73

June 29, 2020, in Gilroy, California.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, John came to Reed, where he wrote his thesis, “Electrophoretic Analysis of Rhythmic Morphological Mutants of Neurospora Crassa,” advised by Prof. Peter Russell [biology 1972–2011]. Jeff McMeekin ’73 met John at freshman orientation at Westwind on the Oregon coast. The two men formed a friendship that included Wayne Marks ’73.

“The three of us became friends for life,” Jeff said. “Dorm life had its ups and downs, so second year we took the next big step after going off to college—moving off campus. Three lads who grew up in environments where Mom did all the shopping and cooking faced new challenges in the mundane. But those shopping trips, as we walked together down the aisles with our shopping cart, negotiating over this and that, were another important facet of coming of age. John had what I thought was a propensity for snacks while Wayne might have felt ‘it takes one to know one,’ we did end up using the nickname ‘Chewy’ for John. Chewy Hewitt had a nice ring to it—like some old-time baseball player—and coming from Boston, John had a love for baseball deep in his DNA.

“We meal-planned our way to survival, and the camaraderie blossomed as we moved through our studies and a succession of girlfriends and rental houses. We also gained a keen interest in the outdoor life from day hiking and backpacking in Oregon. Eventually career aspirations intruded, so a couple of years after graduation one by one we launched our post-college lives outside of Portland. John’s next step was on to UC Davis to pursue a PhD in plant genetics (and where he met his wonderful wife, Nancy).

“Although we came from different parts of the world, John from the Boston area, Wayne from exotic Zelienople, Pennsylvania, and I from San Francisco, we all spent most of our professional lives in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Over the years we did a few joint family backpacking trips and wonderful day hikes with John and Nancy, and after retirement we often traveled together.”

After earning a PhD in genetics from UC Davis, John worked as a plant breeder at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; UC Davis; Novartis Seeds; and Northrup King Seeds, now Syngenta Seeds, in Gilroy.

An avid hiker, environmentalist, and life-long learner, he was a loyal fan of Bay Area and Boston sports teams, especially the Red Sox. John traveled extensively for business and pleasure and spent most summers in the Hewitt cabin in Montana. In retirement, he enjoyed traveling with his family and friends and volunteering in the literacy program at the Gilroy Library.

“Wayne and I got one last chance to talk to John a few days before he died,” Jeff said. “We of course teased him with stories from the old days in the good-natured way we did all our lives. John was just such a wonderful, sweet guy.”

John is survived by his wife, Nancy, of 41 years, sons Tom and Ted, daughter Lisa, and his sister, Nancy Swanson.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2020

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