JOHN EDGAR ELDRIDGE
John was born in Witney, Oxford, 1942, and died in Vancouver, BC, after living his last four years with cancer to which he succumbed on 14 December 2021. He was pre-deceased by his parents, Edgar and Kathleen (Hawes) Eldridge. He is survived by Susan (Sue) his wife of 53 years, his son Jacob (Michelle), his daughter Kate (Chad), and his grand-children, Spencer, Brooke, Sam and Sarah. He is also survived by his sister Eileen (Michael), and her children, Damian, Frances, Margaret, Jean and Stephen.
In 1961, after finishing his secondary education at Gunnersbury Catholic Grammar School in West London, UK, John attended the University of Birmingham where he studied for a B.Sc. in Physics which was granted in 1964. Subsequently he was accepted into the Ph.D. program at the same university, where he researched solid state physics under the supervision of Dr. Tom Lomer, a man much loved and admired by John. Some of John’s time was also taken up as an officer in the University Air Squadron which provided not only new friends and new skills as a pilot, but also high times!
During the first year of John’s Ph.D. studies, October 1964, he met Sue who was working as a secretary in the Physics Department. Initially all did not go as planned. John intended to invite out another secretary, a close friend of Sue’s, but when she declined a highly prescient John invited Sue who, luckily, happened to be there to accept his offer! Sue had loved John from the moment she first saw him several weeks earlier.
After John completed his Ph.D. in 1966 (Thesis “Thermal Diffuse Scattering of X-Rays in Sodium Chloride”), his best option for a career was to travel to the U.S.A. – those were the “Brain Drain” years. He was offered a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, working with Professor John Weymouth. At that time John didn’t want to be drafted to serve in Vietnam, a fate that could befall any non-citizen with “green card” immigration status – how unjust was that? Instead, he took a special two-year visa that exempted him from the draft, but which would mean that should he wish to return to the U.S., he had to move elsewhere for another two years. The complications of the U.S. Immigration System also meant that Sue, for they were not yet married, couldn’t join John in Nebraska because a work permit couldn’t be granted to her in that State, so she emigrated to live and work in Washington, D.C.
John really enjoyed his two years in the Mid-West. He made many friends who welcomed him into their homes where, for his British accent, he earned the nickname “Red Coat”. In addition to becoming a fan of American Football - Nebraska was the home of first-rate college football, the Cornhuskers - John also took up sky-diving. As he liked to say “when you jump out of a plane onto those vast stretches of prairie, landing successfully on the tiny mark provided, it makes you glad to be alive, even in Nebraska.” At this time, flush with spending money, John bought himself a brand-new Classic 1967 V8 Ford Mustang for $2000 (eat our hearts out). He used to drive the straight back roads of Lincoln at great speeds, revelling in the freedom of wide-open spaces, something which didn’t go unchallenged by other drivers of fast cars. Can you say “wanna drag buddy”? That Mustang remained with him for twenty years. John sold it to a Vancouver classic car enthusiast for $2,000, the price he paid for it. He watched with tears in his eyes as it was driven away.
That same faithful Mustang also carried John and Sue from Nebraska to Vancouver for the next phase of his career as an Assistant Professor in the UBC Physics Department in the fall of 1968. Once settled in, John and Sue returned to Britain to be married in June 1969.
During those early married years, John and Sue made friends whose love and companionship would last for the rest of John’s life, particularly throughout his illness. It was a tough time then in many ways for university families. Mortgage rates were high, salaries were low, even with two people working, and striving to “publish or perish” became the driving concern, working long hours to achieve tenure. During those challenging times, Jake was born in June 1972, followed by Kate in May 1975.
John was a good “hands-on” father as well as being a constant support to Sue, who also was striving to establish a career in management at UBC. It was atypical in the early 70’s for men to change diapers, to do daycare parent duty, or to cook meals and care for children while their wives held jobs. But John did it all cheerfully and without any sense that this was unusual. He joined Sue in house-cleaning at weekends.
John progressed through his career from Assistant, to Associate and finally full Professor. He concentrated his research on Infrared and Raman Studies of Solids. John was best known for his Raman scattering studies of organic crystals, which were "new" materials when he was looking at them, but which have recently gained quite a bit of attention as conducting polymers for a variety of electronic/optoelectronic applications. However, this particular life story is primarily about John’s qualities as a husband, father. grandfather, friend and man, albeit that he was a dedicated researcher and a highly-rated teacher. One American colleague once remarked to Sue, while John took a break and she guarded his publication poster at a European ISCM conference - “This is absolutely painstakingly beautiful work, like a craftsman who does everything by hand. Nobody does work like John’s.”
In the 80’s John actually did become a craftsman extraordinaire. John and Sue couldn’t afford service people or building contractors – and during their life on Holland Street, he built a new office, a new car-port, a new back deck, a brick barbecue, a raised vegetable garden, two garden sheds, full wall units and desks for their children, a hall table, a new workshop, and assisted as a labourer on house renovations in 1981 with our builder friend Dave Rudd. Other tasks, such as repairing appliances, fixing pretty well anything that went wrong, were always done quickly and efficiently by him. The only failure that we can recall is when 5-year-old Kate asked him to fix a broken balloon! During his retirement years John also became a devoted gardener, spending hours each day tending and planting a garden which became his pride and joy. Seeing him striding about their yard wearing knee-pads, scruffy clothing and a battered straw hat are some of Sue’s fondest memories.
As the children grew and went about their lives and into marriage, life became different at the Eldridge household. Sue was able to travel with John to conferences, which initiated them into a couple of decades of travel and adventure in Europe, North America, and Asia, including one amazing trek across China in 2005 with Alan Storr and Joan Sharman, where John and Alan both developed an aversion to ubiquitous Buddha statues. Once John retired, and before he became sick, travel was a regular occurrence. Even after John was diagnosed with terminal cancer, a wheelchair was bought for him, and he and Sue went on cruises to Alaska, Mexico and Panama, to family vacations at Easter and Thanksgiving, in addition to overnight trips downtown to stay in good hotels and to dine in good restaurants.
John was straightforward – sometimes to his disadvantage - as well as consistently honest. He invariably told the truth as he saw it, both interpersonally and professionally. He recognized manipulation and wasn’t easily intimidated by it, challenging such behaviour calmly if he felt it necessary to do so. He was generous, always preferring to give more than his share rather than seeming cheap, lack of generosity being a character flaw he disliked. John enjoyed wine and beer with family and friends, celebrated good food from all cultures, including Sue’s cooking, and admired the amazing things he saw during his travels with her. Always he was up for a celebratory party of some sort and many were held at Chez Eldridge throughout his marriage. The Eldridge Christmas party was a fifty-year-old event, always looked forward to with great anticipation by the gang as an opportunity to bring out their finery.
This sybaritic side of his nature notwithstanding, John was a reserved and private man. Some might say, and have said (and you know who you are), that he appeared “grim”, a description he always accepted with good grace. But behind that serious façade he asserted that he was pondering only good things, whereas he believed that a smiling face sometimes could be masking ill-will. He appreciated it when Sue suggested to him that perhaps, as Shakespeare says, he lacked “that glib and oily art to speak and purpose not.”
In the months immediately after his diagnosis, John re-evaluated his previous under-estimation of the value of familial love and strong friendship, so much so that he lost his reticence, embracing, both literally and figuratively, those who showed him compassion, kindness and concern. There were many friends who did just that, regularly and consistently, much to his appreciation and joy. He was thankful to everyone who sustained him with practical acts of assistance, in particular to those whose help also made life easier for Sue. John always believed that actions were truer indicators of love than were words – washing Sue’s car, was an “I love you” for him. In his dying months he was shown to be validated in that conviction. The hugs and kisses of his grand-children were healing touches. The embraces of his wife and children were treasured blessings. The visits of friends both at home and in the hospice were cherished. His death was lovingly mourned by the many St. John Hospice staff who took fond care of John from July to December 2021. Sue will keep those caregivers in her heart forever for their response in kind to John’s gentle dignity while dying.
Goodbye Johnnie, Dad, Papa, Poppa, Nanagrandpa, John.
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
Hotel California, The Eagles
I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.
Harry S. Truman
It’s a jolly holiday with you Bert.