Chapel Hill: Obituaries

John Harris Schwab

John Harris Schwab was a remarkably healthy man. At age 88 he had never spent a night in a hospital, had never had surgery, and required no regular medications until a week-long hospitalization before his death on May 1, 2016 from cardiac complications. He was born November 20, 1927, in St Cloud, Minnesota, the son of Katherine Palmer Harris and John David Schwab. His father died when Jack (as all his Minnesota friends and family called him) was seven years old. After attending Technical High School and a year at St John's University in St Cloud, Jack transferred to the University of Minnesota, where he received his BS in chemistry and PhD in Bacteriology and Immunology.In 1951, while in graduate school, Jack married his high-school classmate Ruth Ann (Tan) Graves. They moved to Chapel Hill in 1953, where John was offered a position in UNC's Department of Bacteriology and Immunology in the School of Medicine. Figuring they would try the South for a year, John and Tan remained in Chapel Hill for the remainder of their lives.John loved going to work, often commenting that he felt lucky to be paid to do something he enjoyed so much. His specialties included linking bacteria to chronic inflammatory diseases such as arthritis. During his 42 years on the faculty he collected many professional honors, including being named the Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor at UNC in 1982. One colleague to whom John was a mentor recently reminisced on John's integrity, even-keel attitude, and broad interest in science as hallmarks of his career. John also loved being with his family, including going on camping trips, building campfires and hearth fires, and playing cribbage and other games. He especially enjoyed spending time at Kerr Lake, in the early years camping at UNC's University Point and since 1989 at a lake house intended by John and Tan to be a gathering place for kids, grandkids, great-grand-kids, colleagues, and friends. They named their Flying Scot sailboat the "Phagocyte," comparing a white blood cell's function to their own sailboat's task of collecting foreign matter from the lake. The importance of the lake house to the family was reflected in many "what I did this summer" return-to-school essays, as well as at least one grandchild's college application personal statement.Among many other international trips, John and Tan took four year-long sabbaticals over the years, to London in 1960-61 and 1968-69, Leiden in 1975-76, and Paris in 1985-86, taking 2, 4, 2, and 0 kids with them, respectively. They especially enjoyed wandering the boulevards and exploring the museums of Paris without kids in tow.John was a gentle person with a generous sense of humor. Among his many aphorisms was "daylight in the swamp," which he intoned as his own grandfather had done when waking kids in the early morning. Many a fussy grandchild was lulled to sleep by John's rendition of "Lloyd George knew my father."John is survived by his sons Stewart Jon (Norma Weatherly) and Kellogg Jonathan (Cindy Zahnow), daughter Anna Katherine (DeWayne Tate), sixteen grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and special friend of the last eight years Prue Mulrine. He was predeceased by his wife of 56 years, Tan Schwab, and his son Thomas Jock (Ellen McCown).A memorial service will be held June 11 at 2:00 PM in Chapel Hill at the Community Church, 106 Purefoy Road, Chapel Hill, where John and Tan were founding members. In lieu of flowers, a memorial donation may be made there or to the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, 100 Old Mason Farm Road, Chapel Hill, of which John and Tan were strong supporters and in which they often took walks.

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