Jack (no one called him John) was born in Brooklyn in 1937. His father died when Jack was young and his family struggled through the tail end of the Great Depression. Jack was forced to steal coal from the coal yard next to the family’s home to keep it heated. His first job was delivering the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. His second job was handling the mercury in a thermometer factory – now one of the borough’s top superfund sites. For schooling he went to St. Francis Prep and had thoughts of the seminary. But after graduation he opted to work in the insurance industry before the military came calling.
In the Marines, Jack was trained as a combat photographer. Luckily, he didn’t have to see any combat. He was at the March on Washington as a detachment sent to restore order if violence erupted. He rose to the rank of corporal before being honorably discharged in 1963.
That’s when Jack began a nearly four decade long career in television broadcast news. He got his start as a photographer at NBC’s Today Show and often spoke of the time he got to talk music with Ella Fitzgerald. He eventually moved on to WNEW (now WNYW-FOX 5) two weeks before the start of the 10 O’Clock News. His job was as a graphic artist. This was in the days before computers, when artists and photographers created the illustrations by hand.
At this same time Jack went back to school. He used the G.I. Bill to study at the School of Visual Arts. In a review Jack’s painting instructor, the artist Chuck Close, said he was “a pleasure to have in class” and called his work “intelligent.”
Jack was smart enough in 1968 when he married Mary Ann Deegan. The couple had two sons, Adam in 1971 and Jared in 1974. They moved from Queens in 1977 and settled in Mahopac, NY, buying a house in the woods from Jack’s former sculpture instructor at SVA.
Unfortunately, soon after Mary developed spinal cancer. Surgery succeeded in removing the most of tumors but left her paralyzed from the neck down. Jack had to carry his wife through the woods to the car to take her to doctor’s appointments. When he’d had enough he handed out fliers to all his new neighbors asking them to help him build a ramp for his wife’s wheelchair. One weekend those neighbors came and built a bridge about a half football field in length. And, even though Mary passed away in 1983, the bridge still stands to this day.
Jack never re-married. He devoted himself to raising his two sons. At work, he had moved from the graphics department to the field. He was an audio technician and microwave truck operator. The job consisted of chasing news stories all over the New York area and beaming them out to the viewers. He spent weeks outside the courts in Lower Manhattan during the mafia trials and covered the first terror attack on the World Trade Center. He loved the work and all of the characters he encountered. He was quite a character himself.
In 2000, he retired. He took himself to Paris, twice. He drove cross country with his son Jared. He started doing public readings of the poetry he’d been writing for years. He got to see both his sons married to beautiful, intelligent women – Adam to Erika Roberson, Jared to Jennifer Frankola. He got to meet his granddaughter, Hope.
In recent years he’d had a series of mini-strokes and dementia set in. After heart surgery last year, his overall health declined rapidly.
On Monday August 7th, 2017, Jack passed away at the age of 80. He was surrounded by the family who loved him. They are working on a memorial service in the months to come to celebrate how he lived his life. His way.