|John Wooten Gurr, our Founder, 1936-2013|
What a life! What a guy!
I am John’s West Point classmate, but I only knew John at the Academy by virtue of his reputation. Our classmate Frank Besson, in his homily this afternoon, will speak to his long friendship with John through West Point, the Army and beyond.
At the Great Falls Virginia elementary school, where one voted, I stood immediately behind, in 1972, a very elegant man who appeared vaguely familiar. John identified himself to the nice ladies verifying the bona fides of would-be voters, and I tugged his sleeve and said hello from West Point. The two of us proceeded to cancel each other out that day and did so many more times subsequently. I learned that John, Mary and their two boys lived just up the street from me. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but one slow to take off.
John worked at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and arranged investment insurance for the promoters of projects in Latin America. I worked at the World Bank and arranged project finance in West Africa. My USMA French helped me; and John’s fluent Spanish helped him, although he spoke that language with what one of his many Latino friends described as “un accento del sur de los estados unidos." Southern accent notwithstanding, the connection with Latin America was so important that the Gurr family spent nearly all of their vacations down there and entertained and introduced to their friends here dozens and dozens of Latino admirers.
Over the next decade since the voting meeting, I saw much more of Mary Gurr than of John, precisely because Mary worked hard at the World Bank to save the health of the dissipated international civil servants inhabiting that place. In early 1982, something wonderful happened that brought John Gurr and me into an embrace we would relish and never abandon—he is still there, and here is why:
Please note that I am wearing the official 50th reunion uniform of our USMA Class of 1959. Now observe another uniform that I have worn, with great pride and in many colors over three-plus decades [at this point, Ole Fud unfolded and displayed his Great Falls Hash 30th Anniversary t-shirt]. Coming home from a business trip to Costa Rica, John summoned some of his pals and proposed we start a Great Falls branch of the international Hash House Harriers (originated in 1938)—John had just run with the San Jose Hash. We did not need much persuading as John observed that hashers were doing something useful—running—and were also doing something pleasant—drinking beer. They were also doing these things together in a most amusing way [here O.F. described some of the origins and traditions of the H3].
|A serious runner.|
The Hash taught me many things about humanity (see the humans here who are also hashers) and a great deal about John Gurr. He was very funny with a wit that was perfectly southern and dry and never absent. He was exigent, often prodding his lazier hashing buddies with remarks about this being a “serious running club” if anyone was caught walking. He was literate and creative, providing many name labels to colleagues who had completed 100 runs—his two were “Guru” (he was, after all, the Founder) and “Last Call” which he earned by regularly exercising the right to consume the last remaining beer. We are celebrating John’s last call today.
John ran with the Hash 530 times. Moving to Nellysford made his appearances less regular to the regret of all of us. The institution he founded lives: over 1700 runs in just over 30 years—never missed a week, and 2100 persons have become GFH3 hashers—34 with over 500 runs and an astounding 7 over 1,000 (the local orthopaedic industry owes a huge debt of gratitude to one John Gurr).
I cannot end this testimonial without a couple of stories about this wonderful man—stories that bring out essential elements of his character. I am liberally quoting from the dozens of missives I have received from our colleagues; the words honesty, integrity, conviction and (southern) dignity appearing over and over. One cites the golfing outing of three regular hashers (and golfers) with John at Brambleton immediately post John’s having attended a “most helpful and formative” (John’s words as he showed us his notes) golfing academy. On the sixth hole, John drew the Russian driver I had presented to him and asked that we make way for a demonstration of newly acquired expertise. The first hit went directly into the swamp in front of the tee, as did the second and the third. Nothing was said. One of our number remarked, and not exactly sotto voce, that perhaps the notes might be used as paper in the barren toilet facilities around the course. With huge dignity in front of sniggers and at least one guffaw, this southerner drew himself up and handed them over—with a smile, eventually.
John’s West Point roommate, Bob Crawford, asked me to tell you that he and John had some friendly wrestling matches in the barracks in South Area, often pretending to refight the Civil War. On one occasion, while showing Bob how a rebel would quickly disarm a Yankee, John managed to dislocate Bob’s shoulder. The South won that bout and Bob adds that he greatly misses John’s style and, above all, his basic integrity.
Another colleague observed that John was the only educated person he had ever known to observe that this would be a far better nation if the South had won what they call down there “the War Between the States.” He asked John if he meant that and reported to me that, after decent reflection, John said “Of course I do…doesn’t everyone?"
(Here I introduced Mike Faber, an honorary member of our Class and, with John Gurr, a mainstay in the successful campaign to have Rocky Versace awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor—led by Gurr, those guys simply refused to give up, and we are infinitely grateful to them for that.)
I am so grateful to have this occasion to talk about my dear friend. To him, I say, “Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful life with me. Be Thou at Peace. And... ON! ON!”
|At Guadalajara del Norte, the GFH3 celebrates the life of|
To read about John's years at West Point and after, as recalled by his plebe-year roommate, please click here.
As always, thanks to Radar for the photos, except the group photo, which was taken by a kindly stranger.