In Remembrance: John Edwards Brewster ’40 Died on December 10 2016

John Edwards Brewster, 97, a resident of Wheaton, Illinois, since 1951, died peacefully in his sleep on December 10, 2016. He graduated from Yale in 1940, was a captain in the Fifth Army Air Corps stationed in the Pacific during World War II, and worked as an actuary for Marsh & McLennan companies for many years, retiring as a vice president in 1984.

John Brewster was born in Madison, Wisconsin, on October 30, 1919, but spent much of his youth in Memphis, Tennessee. His father, Donald R. Brewster, worked in various forestry enterprises, which led him to move the family several times. His mother, Ann Allyn, was a private school teacher who taught at Pentecost Garrison School for Boys in Memphis. John was a top student at the school and was offered a full scholarship to Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut, where he remembers sharing his dinner table with fellow student John F. Kennedy. At the age of 16 he enrolled at Yale University, also on full scholarship. Majoring in mathematics, he graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Yale in 1940. Interested in actuarial work, he had been recruited by Prudential to work as an actuarial student at the headquarters in Newark, New Jersey, for the summer of 1939, before his senior year.

He met Cornelia (Neal) Coxe in 1939 as a 20-year-old senior at Yale. Her identical twin sister had a friendship with John's roommate at Choate School (who was then attending Harvard). The two tall Ivy leaguers were courting the blond twin girls from Tenafly, New Jersey—and eventually married them. John returned to Newark to start his actuarial career at Prudential in 1941, but it was interrupted by the war.

As a graduate of Yale (1940), with a summa cum laude in mathematics, John was a prime candidate for “Special Ops” as the country started to prepare for World War II. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet program and got sent to Scott Field, in southern Illinois, for the communications program. This intensive program was part of the massive Officer Candidate School (OCS) drive to prepare recent college graduates and other eligible candidates to become US Army officers (2nd lieutenants) in 90 days. On July 11, 1942, he graduated from the Scott Field OCS program and got his commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army. That afternoon he and Cornelia Coxe were married in St. Louis. They were soon sent to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where John was in training at Harvard and MIT, concentrating on the new technology of radar. John remembered studying how to send out radar signals, get the echo back, and interpret it.

He shipped out to New Guinea in October 1943 with the 5th Army Air Corps, which provided the air power for the Southwest Pacific arm of Pacific Operations. The 5th Army Air Corps unit started from Port Moresby, New Guinea, in early 1943 and moved through the Pacific theater, ending in Manila in June 1945. In early June, he was sent to Orlando, Florida, for additional training on advanced radar systems.

John Brewster was on leave from the Pacific when the Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, so was able to stay permanently in the US with his family. John was working at the Prudential in Newark and studying intensively for the actuarial exams. He was admitted as a fellow to the Society of Actuaries in 1948. Their first four children were born in New Jersey: Jack in 1943, Marcia in 1946, Christopher in 1948, and David in 1951.

He accepted a position at Marsh & McLennan Insurance Brokers in Chicago in 1951. The family followed by train and moved to Wheaton, Illinois, in 1951. They settled close to Northside Park, where the family enjoyed (and still enjoys) swimming and hiking. The youngest child, Bonnie, was born in 1954.

John loved singing, swimming, and biking. He had a beautiful bass voice and sang with the Chicago Symphony Chorus from 1966 to 1975. At the time Margaret Hillis was the chorus director, and Georg Solti was music director of the Chicago Symphony. He also sang with the choir at Trinity Church in Wheaton, the West Suburban Choral Union, and the DuPage Chorale. He took his wife and several children and their spouses to Innsbruck, Austria, in 2000, where he was part of an International Choral Festival. They traveled to the homes of the great composers in Salzburg, Vienna, and Budapest, led by Lee Kesselman, choral director of the College of DuPage.

He loved to swim and spent happy hours riding the surf in Bethany Beach, Delaware, from 1965 to 2002. The whole clan would meet up—all the cousins, aunts, and uncles on Neal's side. The grandchildren loved to watch him wash up on the beach after a great ride. He also liked to take long bike rides along the trails following former Midwest rail lines. He especially loved the Elroy-Sparta bike trail up to Trempealeau in Wisconsin, taking many of his descendants along with him until the age of 82. His daughter Marcia also remembers hiking and climbing with him in Zion National Park when he was 80: He was extremely fit until a bike accident in 2002.

As his grandson Dan Brewster (of Houston) clearly articulated, "People go through life hoping to make an impact. My grandfather impacted far more people than he could have realized. The way he lived his life and conducted himself had far-reaching effects that will carry on for generations. His work ethic, his integrity, his fitness regime, his love of family, his generosity, and many other traits are ones that I try to follow every day, and hopefully one day can pass on to my son."

John lived with his wife of 74 years in Wheaton and Carol Stream for 65 years. John is survived by his wife Cornelia, her twin sister Alice, and five children: Jack (living in Bucaramanga, Colombia); Marcia (of Hastings on Hudson, New York); Christopher (Plymouth, Minnesota) and his wife Nancy (Ridolfi); David (Johar, Malaysia) and his wife Lisa Ng; and Bonnie (Wheaton, Illinois) and her husband Steve Smart. He is also survived by 11 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. The children dedicated a bench and oak tree in Northside Park to their parents in 2011, in memory of the great times they had there.

—Submitted by the family.

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