John Brewer Spragens, Jr., 68, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in mid-November 2012, died at his home on February 10. He had lived in Eugene since 2006, working as a telecommuting technical writer and editor for the software firm VMware, of Palo Alto, California, before retiring in May 2010.
Born in Fulton, Missouri, in 1944, John graduated from Florida Presbyterian College (now Eckerd College, St. Petersburg) in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities (philosophy and art). His schooling was only the beginning of his real education. He was the firstborn son of a peripatetic clergyman, and his own work and life's journey took him to many locations in the United States (Texas; Florida; New York; Washington, D.C.; California; Oregon, among others), as well as to Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Japan.
During the Vietnam War, John, a conscientious objector, served in a nonmilitary capacity in Vietnam. First, with International Voluntary Services, he taught high school in Tra Vinh, in the Mekong Delta (1966-1968). (The school there has recently named a scholarship in his honor.) Next he worked for the Committee of Responsibility, an organization tasked with connecting war-injured Vietnamese children with the medical care they needed in the United States (1968-1969). Between his departure from Vietnam in 1969 and war's end, John put his considerable skills as a photographer and journalist to use as a peace activist, whether in unpaid work on his own time or in (barely) paid professional positions with the Indochina Mobile Education Project and Indochina Resource Center. To say that John ever "left" Vietnam is somewhat misleading, though. His love of the Vietnamese people and their culture informed his perspective for the rest of his life. This was reflected even in his death: he died on Tet, the beginning of the Vietnamese New Year.
On his return to the United States in 1975, John worked primarily as a journalist/photographer, and his gigs included positions at newspapers in Athens and Corsicana, Texas; Daytona Beach, Florida; White Plains, New York; and Palo Alto, California. From 1993 until his retirement, he earned his livelihood in the computer software industry as a writer and editor for InfoWorld, Novell, USWeb/CKS, and VMware.
In retirement, John was able to spend more time in his backyard garden, an opportunity for experimentation and a source not only of pride and satisfaction, but much of his own produce. He continued to pursue his interest in photography, and he did volunteer work producing publicity materials for the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition (which also benefited from donations of his garden surplus). There was more time, too, to enjoy his enormous CD collection (ripped to a computer, it comprised 99 days of round-the-clock music, as calculated by iTunes). John enjoyed many kinds of music, but had a special passion for jazz. (While living in Palo Alto, he arranged for many of his vacations to coincide with the annual summer jazz festival at Stanford. These festivals, in turn, fed his photography habit, and a sample of the results occupy a prominent section of his Enigmaterial website.)
In recent years, environmental issues ascended to prominence in John's political concerns. He found many practical ways to live "green." An automobile he owned remained dormant in his driveway much of the time, because he preferred walking or riding his bicycle, and these sufficed to meet most of his transportation needs. He equipped the roof of his house with solar panels to diminish his reliance on the electrical grid, and he installed a water recapture system and conservation-smart appliances. Trips to local farmers' markets, at least once a week, supplied much of the food that he couldn't raise in his own garden, and, more generally, his purchases supported the principle of "buy local."
John's measured pace marked his passage in this life, but it was through his unflagging desire to understand the world, his generosity and respect and concern for others, that he will especially be remembered. John's extensive areas of interest brought him into contact with a wide variety of people, and throughout his life he formed and nurtured deep friendships with them. John's mindfulness, consistency, and sense of proportion, as well as his sense of humor, serve as an example to everyone who ever spent time with him.
John is survived by, besides his interlocking circles of friends, his mother, Jane Ellis Spragens, of Austin, Texas; by four siblings, Helen Rebecca Magness, of Layton, Utah, Nancy Springer, of Houston, Texas, Paul Spragens, of Arcata, California, and Timothy Spragens, of Düsseldorf, Germany; and by his website (www.enigmaterial.com), where much of his photography and samples of his journalism are on display, and which will be maintained by his brother Tim. He was preceded in death by his father, John Brewer Spragens, Sr., in Sweetwater, Texas.
The family, following John's wishes, suggests that those wishing to make memorial gifts contribute to the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition (www.lanefood.org/home.php) or Democracy Now! (www.democracynow.org). Also, information about donating to the Tra Vinh scholarship fund will be posted at www.enigmaterial.com if it becomes available.
David Gizara's Night Jazz program on KLCC Eugene will salute John on Thursday night, February 28, featuring music culled from John's CD collection and donated to Gizara and the station. Tune in at 10 p.m. for some tasty grooves at 89.7 on the FM dial (or with Internet audio stream options at http://klcc.org/Page.asp?NavID=130).
Published in Eugene Register-Guard on Feb. 22, 2013