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John Winthrop Sears

The Hon. John Winthrop Sears died of cardiac arrest on November 4, 2014, in his beloved cobblestone-lined Acorn Street home in the Beacon Hill neighborhood of Boston. He was 84 years old.


John was a son of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Dudley Sears II (Frederica F. Leser) of Boston and Prides Crossing, MA. He was also a grandson of Judge and Mrs. Oscar Leser (Annette Agnus) and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Dudley Sears (Eleanor M. Cochrane).


Those who knew John would say he was the quintessential old-school Bostonian, unabashedly proud of his longstanding Brahmin roots. He possessed a supremely keen and voracious intellect, and was thoroughly accomplished in his own right. Combined with his sociable nature and caring attitudes towards others, he was a wonderfully unique and delightful man whose presence benefitted all around him. He is sorely missed by those he left behind.


John Sears’ intelligence is well documented from an early age. He won the “First in School” prizes at the Dexter School and St. Mark’s School, and graduated with an AB degree from Harvard, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. Additionally, he earned a MLitt degree  from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and graduated from Harvard Law School. In the latter years of his life, he was always reading about new issues, contributing articles to various organizations, delivering lectures on various topics—including the history of Boston, racquet sports, golf, and family. He penned the obituary of his late brother Richard Dudley Sears III, which appeared in the Summer 2013 edition of the Social Register Observer.


John also led a noteworthy public life. While he spent several years at Brown Brothers & Harriman, the bulk of his professional pursuits—and passion—were spent in public service. He served as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Atlantic Fleet’s destroyer force during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and served in the U.S. Naval Reserve through 1968. He won elections for the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the chairmanship of the Republican Party in Massachusetts, and the Boston City Council. John was also appointed as sheriff of Suffolk County and chairman of the Metropolitan District Commission, and served as a presidential appointee to the Fulbright Scholarship Board. He also ran as the Republican candidate for mayor of Boston, secretary of the Commonwealth and governor of Massachusetts, waging a highly competitive campaign for the governorship against Michael Dukakis.


As a renaissance man, John’s interests invariably included athletics. He enjoyed learning about and educating interested parties about the achievements of his racquet-playing ancestors (his grandfather was the country’s first national champion in both lawn tennis and court tennis), and would exchange perspectives with tennis commentator Bud Collins. He was an extremely loyal Boston Red Sox fan, and enjoyed watching the “Bosox” eradicate the curse in 2004. He was also a strong and enthusiastic golfer. He regularly competed in many golf tournaments on the North Shore (some of his most successful outings were with his late brother Richard) and was a friend of Francis Ouimet, the first amateur winner of the U.S. Open. He was an enthusiastic supporter of The Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund.


Given the extent of his ability and acumen, many organizations asked John to serve in leadership roles over the course of his life. He served as trustee for the Episcopal City Mission, St. Mark’s School, Thompson Academy, Harvard’s Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770 and Spee Club, John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Museum of Science, United South End Settlements, the New England Historical Genealogical Society, and the Boston Baroque Orchestra.  He also served in leadership roles at the Roxbury Youthworks, Common Cause, Bostonian Society, Old South Meeting Association, New England Deaconess Hospital, Boys & Girls Clubs of Boston, and many more.


To John, the aforementioned pursuits and activities were not merely grinding work or familial obligations; they were enjoyable and highly participatory endeavors. At his late father’s house in Prides Crossing, his young nephews always noticed that he was a night-owl who scoured various documents late into the evening. His expert grasp of knowledge spanned such a wide scope of subjects that it seemed as if John knew much about most everything. He enjoyed vigorous debate; if a visitor added some new perspective that John was unaware of, he would subsequently remember that particular point, permanently. He also had a great sense of humor. Consequently, family members were never surprised to hear that John added some previously unheard-of perspective at an academic lecture or corrected an erroneously prepared tour guide on a Boston Duck Tour.


John thoroughly enjoyed the political process and being in the public eye, despite the challenges posed by electoral politics for moderate Republicans in Massachusetts at the time. With his outgoing personality, the number of people that John knew and/or counted as friends was legion. When one went with him on a stroll through Boston, dined with him at a restaurant or attended an event, John always knew several people in attendance. People of all political persuasions and backgrounds were fond of him, and he, in return, of them.


With his outgoing personality, John enjoyed fellowship at many social institutions over an extended period of time. He was a longstanding member of the The Country Club, the Somerset Club, the Tennis & Racquet Club, the St. Botolph Club, the Club of Odd Volumes, the Wednesday Evening Club, and the Thursday Evening Club of 1846, among others.


But most of all, he prized his relationships with family members. Although his marriage to Dr. Catherine Coolidge ended in divorce, John was always a helpful and attentive family member to his parents, siblings and extended family. He became an extremely close and valued paternal figure to his nephews after his brother Fulton died over 20 years ago. He treasured being referred to as “uncle,” and considered it to be his most valuable title.


John spent much of his discretionary time—several decades—researching his family genealogy. He amassed a formidable foundation of knowledge by pursuing academic research and rekindling relationships with members of every branch of his family. As a result, he valued his relationships with all of his family members, whether they were siblings or seventh cousins. On one of his last family visits, he was seen grinning from ear to ear when his crowded living room was filled not only with grandnephews and grandnieces peppering him with questions, but also with young European cousins chattering away in French.


John requested that his memorial service be held at an institution that meant a great deal to him. Constructed in 1860, Christ’s Church Longwood (otherwise known as the Sears Chapel) was founded by John’s great-great-grandfather, the Hon. David Sears II. It is fashioned after St. Peter’s Church in Colchester, England, with more than 40 descendants of David Sears II buried in the crypt today. Not surprisingly, John took his role as the managing trustee of this institution extremely seriously. He ensured that the church building and its operations were always running efficiently, repaired its historic organ, published a lively church history, and established a 501(c)3 charitable corporation to support the chapel. Appropriately, John’s final resting place is located alongside fellow descendants of David Sears.


John is survived by his sister, Mrs. Anne Sears Wilson (Anne Ware Sears); niece Erica Mandau and her husband Gary; nephews John Wilson, Fred Sears, Dan Sears and his wife Robin, Stephen Sears and his wife Starr; six grandnieces and grandnephews, Dorothy Mandau, Marguerite “Daisy” Sears, George Sears, William Sears, Addison Sears and Philip Sears. John was predeceased by his brothers Richard Dudley Sears III and Frederick Fulton Sears.

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