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James Joseph John
July 25, 1928 ~ October 23, 2023 (age 95) 95 Years Old
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James Joseph John, beloved father and grandfather and longtime Ithaca resident, has
died at age 95. Jim was part of the Cornell community for over 50 years as a professor
of medieval history, specializing in the study of Latin manuscripts and the history of
universities. He balanced his scholarly pursuits with a busy family life and an
enduring enthusiasm for playing and watching numerous sports.
Jim was born in Long Prairie, Minnesota on July 25, 1928, the fourth child of
Elizabeth and Joseph John. He grew up in Browerville, Minnesota with his five
siblings (Richard, Mary, Harry, Jacqueline, and Theodore) and his cousin Adeline. In
addition to starring on his high school football, basketball, and baseball teams, Jim
was a top student and also worked at the Browerville Blade newspaper.
Having won a scholarship, he attended Notre Dame beginning at age 16, often
hitchhiking to and from South Bend, Indiana. He originally planned to study
journalism, but instead became a history major and stayed on to complete his Master’s
and PhD in medieval studies under Father Astrik Gabriel. Jim met his future wife
Margaret (Peggy) Donohue on a double date while she was studying at Saint Mary’s.
They were married in 1952 and are survived by their six children — Meg John-Testa
(Paul), Mary Miller (Jim), Joe John (Kathryn), Richard John (Vicki), Eileen John
(Morgan), and James John (Rani) — and twelve grandchildren.
While completing his PhD, Jim worked as a researcher for Dr. E. A. Lowe at the
Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He lived in and travelled across Europe in
the 1950s, tracking down Latin manuscripts for the Codices Latini Antiquiores (CLA),
a magisterial catalogue of all Latin manuscripts written before the ninth century. Five
of Jim and Peggy’s six children were born during his fourteen years at the Institute,
where he and Peggy had a wonderful social circle including life-long friends from
around the world. Jim returned to Princeton for sabbaticals and continued to work on
the CLA into his retirement.
Jim and his family moved to Ithaca in 1965, when he took up his position in the
History Department and stayed at Cornell for the rest of his career, teaching medieval
history and paleography, and inspiring generations of students. He retired from active
teaching in 2001, but continued his research. He was a visiting professor at
universities including Wisconsin-Madison and Yale, and lectured regularly in Europe.
His work was honored at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in 2009. For
his 90 th birthday in 2018, his family established the James John Professor of Medieval
Studies endowment, reflecting Jim’s help in creating and supporting the Medieval
Peggy’s untimely death in 1995 was a major loss for Jim and his entire family. Jim
married Carol Knight in 2002 and they enjoyed traveling and spending time with their
children and grandchildren. After Carol passed away in 2016, Jim moved to Kendal at
Ithaca and found a wonderful and caring community there.
A sports enthusiast throughout his life, Jim played tennis well into his eighties, with a
high point being his 2009 doubles victory with son Jimmy at the Tompkins County
tennis tournament. He competed in both tennis and track and field at the New York
State Senior games, winning a gold medal in high jump. He bicycled to work, around
town, and around Kendal long after his family thought this was a good idea.
He enjoyed travel and tried to pack as much into a trip as possible. He sought out
obscure manuscript locations, visited family and friends around the world, and
attended all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments.
He was an active member of Immaculate Conception Church (and supporter of the
school) and the Cornell Catholic Community.
Bangs Funeral Home and Immaculate Conception Church are handling arrangements
for a funeral service on Saturday, October 28 th at 10:00 a.m. at Saint Catherine of
Siena Church. Gifts of remembrance may be made to Catholic Charities of