John Marion Hoover died peacefully surrounded by his family ending his valiant fight with cancer at the age of 83.
Born and raised in Louisville, KY, John moved to Largo, FL in 2004. He is survived by his wife Sandy, his two sons, J.B. (married to Adeline) and Brooke (married to Michele) Hoover and his three grandchildren, Ashley, John and Barbara Rose.
One year ago, John took the stage to receive the 2019 Distinguished Alumni Fellow Award from the University of Louisville School of Music. A striking thing about his brief remarks was that he used such a large portion of his speech to offer gratitude to his mentor, Robert Griffith. Bob Griffith saw something in John as far back as junior high school. He switched John over to the French horn, a difficult instrument to learn and to play well. Long after John finished with the Manual High School band, conducted by Griffith, his mentor remained engaged.
In John’s words “…after three years at the University of Kentucky, I dropped out, got married, had kids and began to drift away from music. It was Bob Griffith, who had become the head of the Music Education Department at the University [of Louisville], who tracked me down at Fort Polk, Louisiana, where I was serving in the military. He strongly encouraged me, after my military commitment, to enroll at U of L and finish my education, and with the help of the GI bill, that is what I did.”
Performing music on his horn, educating in music as a band director in public schools and university, and conducting music in the 202nd National Guard Band and various community bands -- all of these became his life’s work.
To this day, it is an unsolved mystery where John’s artistic talent, especially musical talent, came from. He once said that he never heard his father sing a single note. Music was simply not a part of his childhood, yet musician colleagues often expressed amazement at how talented John was. He was especially skilled at sight reading and deftly transposing, which professional horn players must often do. Little did anyone know that his ability was most likely developed from a strong distaste for practicing. Unlike most players who simply had to practice just to keep up their “lip,” John was said to have a natural embouchure, which he was constantly putting to the test.
John would sometimes go extended periods without picking up the horn, and then on his way to rehearsal, buzz a few notes into his mouthpiece and consider himself warmed up and ready to go. While most musicians engage in hours of individual practice before rehearsal, John preferred to bypass the practice part and go directly to rehearsal. Amazingly, though, no one was the wiser for it.
John also had lesser known talents. He believed that the fewer times you go to the gas station, the better. No one was more skilled than John at estimating how far you can drive on “E”. The ultimate victory was to coast into a gas station having just exhausted the remaining fumes in the tank. John actually achieved this feat on one occasion, of which he was extremely proud.
Another talent was his legendary eye hand coordination. This, combined with his two small boys, made for exciting dinners. John seemed to anticipate when one of them was about to tip over their glass, which for years seemed to happen at nearly every meal. Like a striking cobra, John would suddenly flick out his arm, rescuing the glass, its contents, and family harmony.
John’s incredible coordination and reflexes not only served him well at the dinner table, but also in finesse sports, particularly ping pong and bowling. When he picked up a paddle, or a bowling ball, another side of John’s character would emerge – that of a fierce competitor. There was no playing around or even much warm up, but straight to competition.
On John’s yearly sojourn to the bowling alley for a friendly game with an unsuspecting group, he would invariably bowl in the 200s no matter how poorly or awkwardly the rest of the group played. The same was true with ping pong. He would astound and usually crush opponents who may have been expecting a casual game, and he gave even extremely skilled players a run for their money.
One of John’s foundational qualities was his frugality. Born of parents from the country, John was shaped by their modest living and stories. John’s mother, Luella, often remarked that when she and John’s father, Fred, decided to leave the farm and move to the big city of Louisville, they were so thin that they had to stand together to make a shadow.
Very little pained John more than the idea of throwing something away that still had some use. A cursory examination of his workshop would confirm this point as one could, eventually, find any size screw, nail, nut, or bolt that had ever been produced since 1950. However, John’s ability to save the useful was not matched by his ability to organize the saved useful things, nor by much patience to poke through the 20 or so cans he filled. This resulted in many trips to Home Depot in his 1994 Volvo wagon, for more screws or nails to finish a job, with the extras going into can #21.
On the other side of that coin was his generous spirit of service, which also flowed from his parents who tithed all their lives. This spirit brought him to Haiti with his young family for two summers doing mission work with the Episcopal Church. John would often speak about how much he gained from the experience and subsequent friendships; however, it must be noted that the music camps he started and directed for the two Episcopal schools in Port-au-Prince were the first of their kind in Haiti and positively changed the course of hundreds of lives.
This spirit led him every Christmas season to organize music groups to go to nursing homes in the Louisville area and play Salvation Army arrangements of Christmas carols for residents. The musicians were mostly his high school and college students. John, and those kids, felt as uplifted by the experience as their audiences.
This spirit led him to take on project after project and serve on various committees for the churches he attended over the years.
This spirit led him to work long hours several times a year to train poll workers and monitor voting precincts all over Pinellas County FL.
This spirit led him to serve over 35 years in the military, both active duty and National Guard. Upon his retirement from the Guard, he was presented with the Distinguished Service Award of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.
This spirit led him to go far beyond his teaching responsibilities. Whether he was teaching elementary students, college students, or every level in between, John actively looked for ways to encourage all students who took an interest, often advocating for them to be accepted into various special programs. For this he was chosen to receive the Robert B. Griffith Education Award in 2009, and was chosen for the Distinguished Alumni Award by the University of Louisville, School of Music in 2019.
After John finished his presentation and received his award at the U of L ceremony, he returned to sit at his table with his beloved wife Sandy, married 37 years, and his two “boys,” J.B. and Brooke. He was a man who not only appreciated the help he had been given, but a man who also spent his entire life passing on that gift by investing in others. Perhaps more than anything else, this became his defining life mission and lasting legacy.
A ceremony celebrating John’s life will be held on December 12, 2020, at 3:00 p.m. EST. The zoom link is: https://zoom.us/j/7275317704. Meeting ID: 727 531 7704. In lieu of flowers, the Hoover family requests that expressions of sympathy be made in the form of a donation to the Unitarian Universalist Church, Clearwater, FL, or the University of Louisville, School of Music.