Obituary: John Henley McClain, 1950-2021 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: John Henley McClain, 1950-2021 

Father, grandfather, partner and friend, John ultimately found himself and his purpose in Vermont

Published December 20, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated December 20, 2021 at 1:33 p.m.

click to enlarge John McClain - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • John McClain

John Henley McClain passed away on December 14, 2021, in Middlebury, Vt., from complications related to Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia. John called Vermont home for the last 50 years and was a dear friend to many. His powerful and loving presence will be deeply missed.

Born in Hawaii on March 5, 1950, and raised in Hicksville, Long Island, John lived a classic American childhood. He competed with his older brother Ron on and off the basketball court and soccer pitch, sang in the choir, and excelled in school. He admired his sister Pamela’s accomplishments as a distinguished organist and pianist but would also note that he, in fact, had “perfect pitch.” John’s parents, Ernest and Mignon McClain, raised their three children with love and discipline before proudly sending them off to Harvard, Middlebury College and Oberlin Conservatory of Music.

At Middlebury, John played basketball and met close friends with whom he would share the rest of his life. His all-American trajectory was also imbued with the spirit of his time. He left Middlebury College in the early '70s, became a vegetarian, wandered the country and bought his first guitar on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, Calif. When he hitchhiked back east through Mississippi, he tucked his long hair up into his hat to avoid conflict.

Vermont is where John ultimately found himself and his purpose. At six-foot-three, he was an imposing yet gentle force. At first, he learned masonry and would later become a master builder, crafting some of Vermont’s nicest homes with his friends Chris Connor and Larry Buck. But his proudest projects were not for the money. John reveled in contributing to the lives of those he loved. He cherished the memory of laying brick at Jimmy and Carol’s house, “back in the hippie days”; building the Buckminster Fuller “Dome” house in Lincoln, Vt. (yes, those friends were hippies, too); crafting a new home for his father and his wife, Augusta, in Belmont; and raising the roof to create a second story at his friend Danny’s house.

John was practical and capable to the extreme. He did not live by dogmas, but if he had a maxim, he would have said: Be useful. He raised three boys, Ethan Ready, Owen McClain and Kevin McClain. He spent countless hours as a ball boy during the boys’ soccer games so that he could be as close to each play as possible. When Ethan became a competitive skier, John spent the next winters trying to scramble down nearly every slope in Vermont on his first pair of skis. He was a passionate fan of Kevin’s basketball team at Mount Abe, where they would only threaten to eject him from the gym a few times. When other players were at the foul line, you would often find Kevin posted up close to his dad on the sideline so that John could convey his thoughts at a lower decibel. John sang the national anthem beautifully to honor Kevin at his last high school game.

He shared the last 30 years of his life with his loving partner, Clarisse Shechter. They made a home on Pleasant Street in Bristol, and, like at all houses John lived in, he promptly began to renovate. He thought the world of Clarisse and was always working toward her happiness and care. He loved her children Evan and Nina, who lovingly referred to him as JB, which was shorthand for “John Boy.” When the tables turned and his health and memory declined, Clarisse stepped up and cared for John with all of her heart. He would have been proud to see her master the everyday needs of their household, and he was grateful for her love and support until the end.

Above all, John loved the youngest in his tribe. He was dubbed the “baby whisperer” when his first grandchild was born, and his grandchildren Lillian, Abraham, Willa and Annabel filled his heart. He spent countless hours following them on training wheels, pushing them on swings, and watching their youth soccer and baseball games.

John was supported in the end by the same close friends he had helped so many times over the years. On a rotating schedule every week, he was joined by Danny Dinolo, Jimmy Warnock, Freddy Danforth, Billy Perta and his dear friend John Moyers. John spent his last days in the capable and loving care of the staff and nurses in Eastview at Middlebury’s memory care home, where he inquired more than once about whether he had missed another soccer game. John’s family is grateful for the care and support of Addison County Home Health and Hospice. A celebration of John’s life will be scheduled in the summer, with more details to follow.

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