John Henry Gemmill

John Henry Gemmill

Died December 6, 2014

John came to Yale via Brooklyn Friends School, Brooklyn, NY, The American School in London and Bethesda- Chevy Chase High School in Maryland. At Yale, he majored in Architecture, resided in Timothy Dwight, where he was chairman of its Social Committee, was enrolled in the Navy R.O.T.C. unit and served as a member of the Senior Advisory Board.

In November, 2014, John chronicled his life after Yale: “We have had very lucky happy lives, my wife of forty years and I – who am now in my fiftieth from Yale – with both familiar and unexpected activities to occupy ourselves in this late 20th/early 21st century American life. For thirty-eight years we lived in Guilford, CT – for a dozen of which, until last year, we sailed a J32 out of Noank, CT. For more than sixty years, I and my family members have retreated in summer to an 1820s farmhouse in Downeast Maine (Franklin, under the profile of Schoodic Mountain) – a once-working subsistence farm that my father (Y’39) purchased in the early fifties. It is now occupied in summer by yet a fourth generation.

After Yale and R.O.T.C. I entered the Navy and have been on boats large and small since – and actually before then (including the Queen Mary and others of that ilk before jets were convenient). I practiced architecture in Connecticut from 1968, never tiring of the great breadth of the subject which continues to intrigue; the exercise of problem-solving, admiring and puzzling over the work of the great and the new, and of occupying simple shelters; it is a terrific subject to have studied at Yale and in which to have been gainfully employed throughout my working life. I only stopped working a year ago but find myself picking up scale and lead pencil (and the digital tools which launched all of us into another dimension so promptly and thoroughly).

But the pages of calendars fly off and disintegrate, some reluctantly, some promptly. Although retirement seemed on the far horizon, finally it is in the foreground; it was always our plan (mine since I was ten), to live in Maine; and five years ago we were lucky enough to find a sound place in the village of Southwest Harbor on Mount Desert. Our 1929 house comes with an originally unexpected treat of a young nephew and his terrific family on the adjacent property, a gang very much engaged in the life of that town and the region, moving up from Philadelphia simply because they had the same keen desire to be there. Likely they will bring my wife and me new occupations and preoccupations. My wife, Stacey, graduate of Sarah Lawrence and Yale ’72, is leaving her post – since 1975 – at the Yale School of Art, one of the brilliant quarters of the University and one which has brought us great friends and a decent art collection over the years. Our house in Guilford is now occupied by a young Yale sculptor/ professor and her family who are better fit than we to hound around the Westwoods and the granite quarries, but surely we shall discover some new ones in Maine. Our sloop is with a Colby professor in Penobscot Bay; so we may yet see it. The primary adventures of spring 2015 will be the occupancy of a new state by our four Maine coon cats and wedging our baby grand somehow into our fifteen hundred square feet of the house, Hope and Glory. Ah, and of course we hope to find an appropriate day sailor to ply this great harbor which we shall keep within view of our hopefully final seat in this great life.”

The Ellsworth American reported on December 12, 2014: “John Henry Gemmill of Southwest Harbor, Franklin and Guilford, CT, had a gentle death in the early hours of December 6, 2014, after a year of valiant, optimistic experiments fighting melanoma. In his arms to the last was his wife, Stacey McGlone Gemmill, to whom he was so very happily married for the last 41 years.”

R. Douglas McPheters remembers: John was a particularly energetic member of the Yale Navy N.R.O.T.C. Drum and Bugle Corps, smartly performing in the Yale Bowl during the Yale-Dartmouth football game, where the Dartmouth Indian’s headdress was mysteriously snatched from his head.