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John Charles Diaz


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John Charles Diaz
July 20, 1937 – April 3, 2020

John Diaz (big JD, dad, papa, baba, mydada, BFD), 82, of Philadelphia, PA succumbed to the corona virus on April 3, 2020. John was born in NYC and grew up in Washington Heights, Manhattan with his mother, Evelyn Harriet Arfsten. His father, Carlos Jose Diaz, who emigrated from Guatemala through Ellis Island as a child, was an import/export businessman. His parents finally married in 1969 and were tragically killed by a truck while on honeymoon in Puerto Rico. John graduated from Stuyvesant High School and went on to get his B.A. in pre-engineering in 1958 and B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1959 from Columbia University.

John married Catherine Alice Kozak in 1960 and they had three daughters, Lisa, Cymantha and Tina. The family lived in Hawaiian Gardens, Los Angeles, CA and Manchester, TN, before settling down in Philadelphia. John worked for Standard Oil Pipeline, then as a Contract Engineer for a construction company in southern CA that built hound dog missile sites, followed by a joint venture aerospace simulator construction company; he worked at Philadelphia Burner Service as a mechanical controller before retiring after his parents died due to grief or existential crisis. During that retirement, he championed causes such as community food co-ops and high quality integrated schools in Philadelphia. He took over his father’s import/export business to Central America, making vitamin-rich emulsions called Ceregen, Ozomulsion, and Nervita. In 1971 he bought a Volkswagon camper and took his family of 5 to Mexico and Central America for several months, exploring his roots and learning his father’s business. When shipments where hijacked in 1978 in El Salvador because of the war, those businesses went on permanent hiatus.

John and Catherine divorced in 1976. John became the manager at Day & Frick in Philadelphia, which manufactured vitamins and supplements (well before the explosive supplement industry now). He remarried in 1985 to Pamela Kerr and they welcomed a son, John “Austin”. John worked for Haverford College for 23 years as a physical plant manager—his dream job! He loved the community, education, arts, and culture. When he retired, he could not stay idle. He enrolled in classes at West Chester University to earn a teaching certificate in secondary mathematics (Imagine trying abstract algebra at 79!).

John was impassioned by visual and performing arts and film. He had a resonant stage voice and dashing physical presence when he was cast in numerous community theater productions at Stagecrafters and Allens Lane Art Center, including Don Juan in Hell, Curse of the Starving Class, Sticks and Bones, A Runner Stumbles, A Doll’s House, Catch 22, Little Murders, and Little Alice. He taught his children and grandchildren to love theater and the arts. He was also a constant presence, advocate, and supporter of Philadelphia arts, such as the Fringe Festival, International House films, PlayPenn, Pig Iron, ICA, and many others. John loved jazz music and regaled us with stories of seeing Miles Davis live on a weekly basis in New York. WRTI radio has late night jazz programs that he said he’d fall asleep to. We are comforted that he was able to hear Miles at the end of his journey. Other things he loved: Campari & OJ, crisp bacon, fine chocolate, marzipan, hummus, coffee and coffee ice cream, pecans (especially those from Cymantha’s harvest), lobster, LONG meals at great (undiscovered) restaurants, pugs, libraries (he served on the board of East Falls Public Library for years), the beach (especially Avalon, NJ) off-season, reading the bridge column, jazz, avant garde anything art, poetry, crime shows, short stories, discovering the best spots or shows to share with others, his daughters and his son who shared the same passions. John loved life, was never bored, and was not a complainer. He readily talked with all people he encountered (including strangers or staff on buses and restaurants, much to everyone’s embarrassment), and discovered something about them to tease them about or identify action items for them.

John is predeceased by his parents, and half-sister, Carola Shave. He is survived by his wife Pamela Kerr, daughters Lisa Riegel (Stephen) of Cary, NC, Cymantha Liakos (Billy) of Roswell, NM, Christina Diaz Meyer (Caleb) of Philadelphia, PA, and son Austin Diaz (Jen) of Oakland, CA, as well as nine grandchildren, Harry, Sophie, Will, Elias, Gus, John, Greta, Celia, and Clare, plus many friends, former colleagues, and extended family. A service to celebrate his life will be scheduled after the pandemic that took it. In lieu of flowers, feel free to donate to your favorite community arts organization or the Temple University Lung Center.

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