John Wirth Ebbs, an electrical engineer who in his free time served on community boards, sang in choruses, enjoyed photography, and above all, spent time with his family and his many friends, died peacefully of complications from strokes on Friday, March 16, 2012 on Martha’s Vineyard. He was 85.
John worked for Rotron, Inc., in Woodstock, New York, for most of his professional career, holding a series of engineering and managerial positions there. Although he enjoyed the managerial side of his work, his primary interest was in the theory and application of electro-magnetism, especially in the design of brushless electric motors for Rotron’s line of electronics-cooling fans. John improved many existing models and developed several new designs that were patented. His motors powered fans used by the computing and aerospace industries, including NASA.
John was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, on August 10, 1926. He grew up in Hartford, Conn., where he attended Hartford Public High School. As a teenager he had already developed his life-long loves of choral singing and photography, and his equally strong curiosity about how things like motors and radios work. His curiosity about electrical devices led him to study electrical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, from which he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1948.
John was working for Electrolux in Greenwich, Conn., when he met Josette Wurlod, a French-Swiss citizen who was working at Greenwich Hospital. They married a few months later in 1955. Soon after, they moved to Rochester, N.Y., where their first and second children were born. In 1959 John and Josette settled in Woodstock, N.Y., where their third child was born, and where they lived for the next 37 years. The family loved Woodstock for its beautiful setting and its rich and varied culture. During these years John enjoyed hiking, skiing, and sailing with family and friends. He also welcomed the opportunity to serve on local community boards, including the Woodstock Library, the Onteora Central School District, and the Maverick Concert Series of which he was chair for several years. Throughout his time in Woodstock, John sang bass, often as soloist, in the Mid-Hudson Madrigal Society and the Ulster Choral Society. Curious and open-minded himself, John enjoyed getting to know other people whose perspectives were different from his — free-thinkers of all types, including artists, musicians, and inventors, as well as people from other countries and cultures. He met and became good friends with many such people in Woodstock.
During his Woodstock years, John and his family began taking summer vacations in New England by the sea. Martha’s Vineyard became one of their favorite destinations and in 1996, following John’s retirement, John and Josette moved here permanently.
John quickly became involved in Vineyard community life. As founding President of the Island Community Chorus, he was responsible for its incorporation as a non-profit organization, and remained its president for six years. John sang in the ICC and with several other groups until the last few years of his life. He enjoyed sailing, biking, and swimming on the Island and loved its nature walks, beaches, and harbors. Above all, he valued the many new friends he made here.
John was a gentle, kind, and generous man who relished discussions on almost any topic. He especially enjoyed discussions that applied theory and logical deduction to solve practical problems, but he also liked to speculate with others about art, spirituality, and the meaning of life. He is survived by his wife, Josette, of Vineyard Haven; his son, Marc, and grandson, Conor, of Newton; his son, Gary, and daughter-in-law, Martha Lhamon, of Bloomington, Ind.; and his daughter, Corinne, of Easthampton. He was predeceased by his parents, Jessie Wirth and Norman Kenneth Ebbs, and his brother, Norman Kenneth Ebbs, Jr.
A celebration of John’s life will be held on Saturday, June 2, at 11 am at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, on 238 Main St., Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts. A reception will follow at the Grace Episcopal Church on Woodlawn Avenue in Vineyard Haven.
Contributions in his memory may be made to Island Community Chorus, P.O. Box 4157, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, P.O. Box 4188, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568; or Island Hospice, P.O. Box 2549, Oak Bluffs, MA 02568.