BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — John Thomas Chamberlain passed away peacefully in his sleep on Dec. 3. He was 96.
He was born on Nov. 8, 1920 in Waverley, Virginia to William and Alma Chamberlain (née Zahn). John grew up on the Chamberlain family farm during the Great Depression along with siblings Mary Jane, Charles William, and Anne. His tinkering with radios, milking machines, and the family produce truck would turn into a lifelong passion for electrical engineering.
He brought electricity to the entire farmhouse at the age of 16 and went on to graduate with a degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Tech in 1941. He put his skills to good use in World War II, when he became a radar engineer communicating with Allied aircraft and intercepting German messages in North Africa, Italy, and Germany. After the war, he continued his career making ground-to-air radar equipment for GE, IBM, and the Department of Defense.
John married his sister’s best friend, Matilda “Mat” Darley O’Brien, on Jan. 25, 1947 and had two children. The family moved to upstate New York and spent summers boating at a cabin he built on Downie Island in the Thousand Islands. In his spare time, he loved talking to faraway friends on his ham radio and practicing the ancient art of dowsing.
Mat and John moved to Bainbridge Island in 2001 to be closer to their son and grandchildren. From the minute they arrived, they became active members of the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church community. John loved being a member of the men’s breakfast “Oatmeal Club” and volunteering as a handyman around the church. John had an infectious personality and made new friends everywhere he went. Even near the end of his days, he made an effort to befriend every new neighbor at The Wyatt House.
John is survived by children Nora “Uriel” Chamberlain of Santa Fe, New Mexico, William “Bill” Chamberlain (Amy) of Bainbridge Island, grandchildren Evan and Julia Chamberlain, and extended family member Martha Roberts. He was predeceased by his wife of 68 years, Matilda Chamberlain.
A memorial service will take place at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 29 at The Wyatt House, 186 Wyatt Way NW, Bainbridge Island.
— Family of John Thomas Chamberlain