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John G. Zornig

Died: September 13, 2012

This obit comes mostly from a memorial service, a highly recommended testament to this paragon of technical knowledge, musicianship, and loyalty.

From the Walter Johnson High School (MD) Band, John Zornig graduated to The Yale Symphony Orchestra, playing flute in the European premier of Leonard Bernstein’s Mass. As an undergraduate John also performed at Jonathan Edwards College and in several other venues.

He later regretted his B.S. in physics hadn’t been in engineering. He applied his technological know-how widely, particularly concerning sound. He was the broadcast engineer for WYBC and had an amateur radio license, which he renewed later in life, contacting 300 countries (by HAM measure). He could fix or build anything. For an undergrad friend complaining of boom boxes at the beach, he built a radio jammer with a range of 50 feet (strictly warning that it was illegal).

When John took on an organization or a person in life, he committed with fanatical fervor.

John inherited loyalty to the Army from his father, who helped develop the concept of the air cavalry and his grandfather after whom the Army’s main ordinance research lab is named. After ROTC at Yale, John went to Korea with the 7th Cavalry in the late 60s, confronting North Korean forces in the not-so-cold war. After active duty he remained in the reserves and eventually helped re-establish ROTC at Yale in the 80s, retiring as Lt. Colonel. His military eulogist, a Marine colonel whom he regularly met for wide-ranging intellectual discussion in later years, called him “a citizen soldier in a tradition dating to the American Revolution.”

A musical eulogist called him “a civic musician.” Returning to Yale for a Ph.D. in engineering (1974), he stayed on as faculty, researching acoustics, later exercising his expertise working for start-ups and Digital Equipment after Yale denied him tenure. Although faculty, he continued playing in the Yale Symphony and was frequently spotted hanging posters, rigging sound systems, and attending to endless details to make every concert successful. In the mid-70s everyone in music at Yale knew John. He would show up for every rehearsal, set up, and make recordings of the rehearsals. During breaks he would drag the entire flute section offstage to perfect their intonation. He attended every orchestra dinner and post-concert meeting and showed up for the brutal 12-hour auditions beginning every season. John arranged to send the entire YSO to Europe on the QE2 — a rough crossing. During rehearsal, he was the only player not seasick.

He loved flute and piccolo. Moving north after Yale he played for 20 years with the New England Philharmonic and in the Massachusetts Wind Ensemble, Massachusetts Symphony, a flute quartet, and other chamber ensembles.

In a precision ensemble, musical or military, everyone plays their part but relinquishes their ego in service to something greater. This loyalty pattern had a deep attraction for John.

Loyalty ruled John’s heart too. When he decided that Suzanne Stoterau was the love of his life, he waited for her for over ten years — despite her moving to California and not communicating with him at all. He waited. Happily, eventually she moved back to Massachusetts; they were married and had many years together. In September 2015 she played in a flute concert marking the third anniversary of his memorial service.


Suzanne Stoterau remembers:

The concert went very well. The flute player was a colleague of John’s and donated her time for this concert. She read the lyrics to “Danny Boy” and that evoked emotion in the room.

John served in Korea for 13 months in 1966–67. It was Vietnam era but he clearly was in Korea and commanded 160 men in a post in the demilitarized zone when he was 22 years old and only a lieutenant. He was in the 7th cavalry. He did see some active combat and I have some stories about that. His father was a colonel in the Army and his grandfather was at least a colonel — I don’t know if he was a general. His grandfather invented something that was recognized, but I don’t remember right now what it was. His parents and grandparents are buried at Arlington. His mother’s maiden name was Grant, and his middle name was Grant, but John studied civil war history extensively and I never heard anything from him about being related to Ulysses S. Grant.

One story from Korea stands out. He received orders for 19 tanks to cross an icy bridge over a ravine. The bridge had no side railings. His 19 tanks got to the bridge and the first driver stopped out of fear. They also didn’t know if the North Koreans were going to blow up the bridge. John got into the lead tank and drove across the bridge and the other 18 followed him. The North Koreans did not blow up the bridge, and they got back safely.

He was working for a broadcasting company during one of his summers off from Yale and was on the top of a building filming the March on Washington for TV. He described a wave of people coming over a hill and their march into Washington.

He was the kind of person that would go out of his way to help others. I am not surprised to hear stories about this from his friend. One story is that he used to go to abortion clinics in Boston when picketing was going on. He just stood there and with his commanding style nobody bothered him as women were able to cross the picket line to get their abortions.

The ham radio people do a lot of communication for races, the Boston marathon, Head of the Charles, etc. For the Boston marathon John was placed in a DMAT — a deployable hospital — that was set up in Wellesley. He had gotten first responder training and did the ham radio communication to get ambulances for people, etc.

I could ask his sister about the connection to U. S. Grant and what his grandfather did in the military that was noteworthy if you want to know.

I am glad to hear these stories and glad to hear that he is alive in the memory of others.

Charles Jester remembers:

I know you already have information on John Zornig but perhaps I may have something to add. John was the great grandson of U.S. Grant, the grandson of an army general, the son of a Colonel. He retired as a Lt Col in the 7th Cavalry (Custer’s old outfit). I last heard from him a few years ago; he had just married for the first time and was happier than I had ever seen him. After graduation he had worked on the Cray super computer; and served in Vietnam in the tank corps on the assumption that tanks would be utterly useless in Vietnam. More recently he played the flute in the New England Symphony. John, during the summer, had been a camera man for WTOP; and he was very knowledgeable about radio, holding his amateur extra license and helping amateur operators in the New England area with their radio knowledge. John was always helpful to people. I recall a J.E. party in the Art Gallery sculpture garden with an unusually potent punch. John collected the bodies and carried them to their rooms and cars. I also remember double dating to New York City, We got separated until a fire truck drove past and the firemen were waving to the rear. I looked behind and there in the middle of Lexington Avenue was John and his date chasing the fire truck.

Hope there is something you can use.