John O.C. McCrillis, 103, of Branford, died peacefully on October 1, 2017. Born in Brockton, MA, on June 3, 1914, John lived in Whitman, MA, until at age 8, he moved with his family to Newport, RI. In his teens, he began working at a local pharmacy, stocking shelves and delivering prescriptions. He nearly had a career as a pharmacist, but his first love was art. He saved his money and, at age 21, enrolled at Rhode Island School of Design, where he studied with master calligrapher John Howard Benson and majored in graphic design. After graduating in 1939, he moved to Boston and worked as a free-lance graphic designer and calligrapher until 1942, when he entered the U.S. Army Air Corps. He attended radio school and then was assigned to the flight crew of a B-25 bomber, flying 50 missions over North Africa and Italy during WWII. He then returned to the U.S. and taught at an Air Corps radio school until the end of the war.
On September 30, 1945, John married his fiancée, RISD classmate Barbara Roffee, of Providence. They lived briefly in Philadelphia and then relocated to Kansas City, MO, where John taught at the Kansas City Art Institute and worked as a design consultant at Hallmark Cards. After three years, he decided that if he continued to teach, he should have a master’s degree. In 1950, John enrolled at the Yale School of Art, where he studied with Bauhaus color theorist Josef Albers. He enjoyed the university so much that he stayed on long after receiving his M.F.A. in 1952.
John had a fulfilling career as head of the design department at Yale University Press for nearly 30 years. He also taught calligraphy at the Yale School of Art and then at Creative Arts Workshop. But he had many other interests, too, and made time to pursue them. He was class secretary and an alumni trustee at RISD, and a member of the board of directors and the publications committee at the New Haven Colony Historical Society (now the New Haven Museum). In his long career, he took on hundreds of free-lance projects in publication design, calligraphy, and painting. He was a member of the First Baptist Church of Branford for 67 years and served the church in many ways during that time. He sang bass in the church choir for 60 years. John painted for his own enjoyment, taught himself how to play the piano and recorder, and was an avid gardener. He was the author of two books: A Printer’s Abecedarium, and An Airman’s Letters. In retirement, he bought an antique printing press and several fonts of hand type and used them to print limited-edition books, prints and cards. On June 3, 2006 (his ninety-second birthday), he received an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Rhode Island School of Design.
John was a member of the Columbiad Club, the Elizabethan Club, Typophiles in the Country, and Mory’s. He was an outgoing person with a positive, can-do attitude and a delightful sense of humor. Those who knew him recall his whimsical word play and hilarious puns.
John is survived by his daughter, Susan Ward, Branford; his sister Doris Hayward, Bridgewater, MA; a niece; several nephews; and three pet cats. He was predeceased by his wife, Barbara; his son-in-law, James R. Ward; and by his parents, sister Marjorie and brother, Maury. Another sister, Rhoda, died in infancy. Susan wishes to thank Harold Levy, M.D., for his excellent care of John for over 50 years; and VNA Community Healthcare for their many supportive home visits.
A memorial service will be held Friday, November 10, at 11:00 a.m. at the First Baptist Church of Branford.
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