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John M. Burgess, Jr. was born September 10, 1930 in Gastonia, NC, the first of six children to John M. Burgess, Sr and Doris Kate Burgess. He passed away peacefully on March 17, 2023 after a brief illness.
John was married to the former Ellen Claire Hughes of Washington, DC for 61 years. He is survived by his son John III (Eileen) and daughters Erin (Steve Seigel) and Katie; as well as grandchildren John Paul, Kate, Billy, Claire, and Danny whom he adored and will always be known to them as their “Poppy.” He is also survived by his sister, Lynda Salditt. John was predeceased by his parents, brothers Joe, Mac, and Raymond and his sister, Sara.
After John graduated from Gastonia High School, he volunteered for the US Air Force during the Korean War, where he studied radio, radar, bombing/navigation systems maintenance for the Strategic Air Command (SAC) six-jet B-47 bomber and was assigned to the first B-47 Bomb Wing at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. After receiving an Honorable Discharge, he then devoted his entire adult career to the defense of the country. He loved the creativity of his work and that it might have a lasting impact.
A couple of good teachers in John’s youth fired a love of learning that lasted throughout his life and inspired him to pursue a college education. He attended Georgia Tech and earned a BS in Electrical Engineering as well as a MS in Electrical Engineering. He was awarded the National Honorary Eta Kappa Nu Electrical Engineering Award and the Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honorary Award.
After getting his engineering degrees, work took John to the Washington area in the early 1960's when he joined the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory where he worked on radar and missile systems development. His early work was in the use of digital components and minicomputers in radar systems. He was selected for a special assignment to the Defense Communications Planning Group, which led to the development of sensors for use in the detection of the Ho Chi Minh trail during the Vietnam War where he was assigned to a Royal Thai base for the introduction of the system. John then joined the Mitre Corporation where he worked on a number of defense projects including the Tracking and Data Relay program to assist NASA in the location of the system ground station.
John then joined the Central Intelligence Agency where he became a member of the Senior Intelligence Service in the Office of Development and Engineering. John was awarded the Intelligence Medal of Merit for his work in the development and deployment of complex and sophisticated collection systems. He traveled extensively throughout his career including to the west coast regularly and to Australia for satellite launches. He retired from the Agency after 10 years of service and entered the private sector working at Zeta Associates.
In retirement, John pursued a variety of interests. His main focus, though, was family. He loved his wife, children, grandchildren, and extended family dearly, and nothing gave him more pleasure than spending time with them, particularly on family trips and time spent with his family in South Carolina.
John and Ellen traveled extensively after retiring, forming an especially deep love of the American West, and in particular, the Tetons, Yellowstone, and the red rock canyons of Utah and Arizona during months-long car trips and glorious summers in Jackson Hole, WY, where family and friends would invariably visit. Always the adventurer, John planned a family trip for his 80th birthday that was centered around a 15 mile hike in Glacier National Park and included a night in the rustic Granite Park Chalet.
John and Ellen also traveled around the world, especially loving their time in Kauai, New Zealand and Australia. Other memorable family trips to Croatia, Ireland, Italy, Spain and France held a special place in his heart. In addition to spending numerous summers in the Wyoming mountains and Colorado Plateau, more recently, he and Ellen spent winters in Vero Beach, FL exploring as many nature preserves as he could find.
John became an accomplished amateur photographer focusing on western landscapes and wildlife, especially birds, during his many travels. He also mastered Photoshop, using this expertise to print photos from his digital studio for display in many exhibitions in the DC area and winning awards along the way, including at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, VA. He also enjoyed sharing his knowledge of Photoshop, giving lectures for a number of years around the DC area teaching color-management for fine art printing with inkjet printers.
John was a lifelong reader, particularly enjoying early American history and the natural sciences. His reading of the history of the American Revolution and the development of the constitution had a very strong resonance for him. He always felt strongly that American Democracy had the responsibility to provide as level a playing field as possible, so that all Americans had the opportunity to succeed. He sought to instill his love of learning, the natural world, and history in his children and grandchildren and was not above inflicting on them gentle lectures on mathematics and the wonders of compound interest.
John will be remembered as a sports fan, spirited tennis player, alpine skier, and long-time member of the Ski Club of Washington where he and Ellen made lifelong friends.
This well-lived life ended peacefully on March 17, 2023 after a brief illness. Memories of the many good times, his generosity of spirit given to his family and friends, the wisdom and responsibility he always exhibited, and his quiet presence will be treasured by his friends and family forever. Poppy was a bright light, and he leaves a lasting impact on the lives of his family and friends.
Happy trails, Poppy, until we meet again!
The family will receive friends and loved ones during a Visitation at 10 a.m. followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 6, 2023 at the Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, 3630 Quesada Street, NW Washington, DC. Interment will be private.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in John’s name to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
122 C Street, NW, Suite 650, Washington DC 20001