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John L. Eggleston

Died: May 19, 2007

John Lee Eggleston came to Yale from Milford High School in Connecticut. Freshman year he roomed in Farnam with Dave Crosby and Oz Osborn. He later roomed in Saybrook with Dan Avery, Toby Condliffe, and John Foy. He was a German major and on the Dean’s List or a Ranking Scholar each semester and sang in the Freshman Glee Club.

For a full discussion of his life after Yale read: http://www.chelseachurch.org/john-eggleston-legacy-fund/

After Yale he earned his M.Div. at Union Seminary. “I was really excited by the theology and the Biblical studies and I decided I wanted to be ordained.” Although raised in the Congregational Church, he spent his seminary field service in a Lutheran church. “I liked that the Lutheran Church had a theology, and I liked their organized way of expressing faith. So I became a Lutheran.”

“But during my third year as a pastor, I came to terms with my sexuality as a gay man, my wife and I divorced, and I resigned my parish. However, I did NOT want to resign the ministry! The Bishop was troubled as to how to submit the name of an active homosexual to a parish. I encouraged him to. I told him that even if it did not work out, it would be an educational process, but he wasn’t ready for it. No one was ready for that in the 1970s. So I was dropped from the clergy.”

After he left the ministry, John organized a Lutheran council for gay people, and he took a job as the business manager for the foster division of a children’s aid society, then worked as a fundraiser for the Metropolitan Opera. He also lost his best friend to AIDS.

“In hindsight, I think that the factors that went into my desire to be ordained were that I wanted to be in an environment with church music…I made a conscious decision to make my ‘regular job’ a less significant factor in my life so I could free myself up for church music. Life is too short.“ He worked at the Transit Authority as a staff analyst .

He firmly believed in the importance of a volunteer choir. “I enjoy the challenge. A volunteer choir is a gift to a church. They are the voices of the community, and there’s a connection that isn’t there when you’re working with what seem to be the requisite professionals or ringers other churches think they have to have to make a beautiful sound. I think I can motivate people and all of us still have a good time.’’ John was the organist and music director for Chelsea Community Church.

John also took care of his family and friends. He supported his friends, standing by them in tough times and enjoying them in good. His laughter rang through so many places: New York, Milford, Silver Bay, Provincetown, Poland Springs, Buffalo, Seattle, Hawaii. A choir friend said, “All of us who knew John carry his voice and music in our hearts, and when we all sing, what a choir that is!”

John passed away quietly at age 63 on May 19, 2007 at Cabrini Hospice, Manhattan, NY. after a long battle with lung cancer.

Daniel Avery remembers:
I was privileged to be in his wedding party. Joan and I visited them in New York a few times. Once, when he was working at a church in Harlem, we joined them for a pot luck supper with the congregation and got a totally different view of the people who lived there. John was doing good work with them and they appreciated his efforts. We were shocked when Susie called to tell us about the split. We lost touch after we moved to California. And, like John F, I remember Toby calling with the details of seeing John that final time. As for EGGS2SEA, it was a triple pun, as it sounded like “ecstasy” as well as the other two.
John Foy remembers:
(Remember his family’s boat, “Eggs2Sea” I think it was named? Or was it “Eggs2See”, his father being an optometrist? Punny either way.)

I remember hearing John play the organ once or twice (where? Battell Chapel?), being blown away by his ability.

I liked John a lot, thought he was a very good guy, if a touch quirky. In retrospect, probably dealing with demons we (or I, at least) never had a clue about. Also liked Suzy, was very sorry to hear of her sorrow at their marriage’s failure. But not hard to see how she could have been pretty invested in him.
Arthur Condliffe remembers:
John was always fun to be with and had a great laugh. John and I were lab partners in freshman biology. During one lab, we were given live frogs which we were to dissect. We were shown how to pith the frogs. Pithing involves holding the frog firmly in one hand while taking a pin and inserting it into the frog’s spinal cord, pushing it up toward its brain and downward toward its legs. This has the effect, we were told, of killing the frog’s nervous system so that it can’t feel or react to pain and can be dissected while its heart and lungs still work. We could thus cut the frog open and see working organs.

Many in our biology lab were squeamish about this process. One other classmate and I weren’t, and we ended up pithing the frogs for everyone who was squeamish. The first one I did, I gave to John Eggleston. Apparently I had not done it well enough and its legs were still twitching when Mrs. Steen, the lab instructor, took a look. She told me to do it again, which I did. When Mrs. Steen came by for a second look, she said it was well pithed now. “Well” said John, “I’d be pretty pithed if someone did that to me.” We all had a good laugh.

In sophomore year, Dan Avery and I formed a quad with John Foy and Ed Crotty. We are good friends to this day. In senior year, Ed left our group; and John, who had lived across the hall in junior year, joined us. He had a girlfriend, Suzy, who became his wife shortly after graduation. John became a Lutheran minister and had a church in New York City, where Suzy was the organist.

Suzy worked weekdays. Meanwhile John met some of his Lutheran colleagues, realized that he was in love with one of them, and he and Suzy broke up. I understand Suzy was devastated, and John left his church. He worked for the New York subway system and for the Metropolitan Opera Company — perhaps others too.

After graduation, John had little contact with us, his former roommates. Two or three years before John died, he agreed to meet me for lunch in Manhattan near where he was then living. He played the organ on Sundays at a nearby church. I don’t believe he had any other job when I met him. He told me that Yale had been the wrong school for him. I guess there was too much emphasis on chasing women. He told me that he had always been physically attracted to men but thought if he got married, that these urges would go away. I don’t think John would mind my writing this about him today.

Ed Crotty and I attended one of the ’66 dinners at the Yale Club of NYC. We knew John had a brain tumor and was in a downtown hospital. The day after the dinner, we went to see him and were directed to a ward with four beds. I didn’t see John in the room and one bed was empty. I thought we were too late — that he had died. Then I heard a robust “Toby!” He had seen me but when I had looked at him, I hadn’t recognized him, he was so emaciated. His voice and sense of humor were intact as was his memory. Ed and I had a good visit with him but he died a few days later.
Edmund Crotty remembers:
John was one of the most empathetic people I have ever known. Wonderfully good-humored, he radiated a sense of calm and welcome and acceptance. On the few occasions when I had the pleasure of visiting him in New York City after our graduation, he was the epitome of hospitality and companionship. Although he did not remain in his initial occupation of “clergyman,” he had all the right qualities for that profession, and to an exceptional degree. Because his personal talent for engaging with the human spirit was so advanced, I am sure he exercised his gift of ministry in any space he occupied.