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John McGuire

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John McGuire Obituary
John C. McGuire

May 6, 1920 -                            December 21, 2013

Founder of McGuire Furniture Company, died peacefully in his home in Portland, Oregon on December 21, 2013, with his beloved daughter Jean holding his hand.

John's wife Elinor, predeceased him in November 2005.  He is survived by his son, Don, and his daughter-in-law Clay, his daughter Jean McGuire Coleman, and her children, Mark, Amanda, Jessie, Perry and Don Robert. He is survived by his sister-in-law Jean Stevenson (Mrs. Donald), his brother-in-law and sister-in-law Wally and Priscilla Stevenson, and his brother-in-law and sister-in-law Rees and Eloise Stevenson.

John was born in St. Augustine Florida on May 6 1920. With his mother, Jessie Clark McGuire, and his brother, Bill, he spent his childhood in the Boston suburb of Hingham, Massachusetts.  He graduated from Hingham High School and attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. His education was interrupted by the bombing of Pearl Harbor; John enlisted in the Navy. He was sent to flight school at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, where he advanced to train new pilots.  Also in Pensacola was Elinor Stevenson who was a navigation instructor and the First Assistant to the Commander of Training. John and Elinor met and fell in love, beginning their extraordinary lifetime partnership.

Following the end of World War II, John retired from the Navy and began working for the Standard Vacuum Oil Company in the Far East. John returned to the United States and married Elinor at her family home in Portland, Oregon in 1947.

John and Elinor settled in San Francisco. John initially found work selling newspaper ads for the San Francisco Examiner where he fortuitously ran into Dwayne White, a friend from the Navy. Dwayne had a warehouse full of rattan furniture which he was having trouble selling. John sold the furniture for him and wanted to order more but Dwayne declined. During his tenure with Standard Oil in the Philippines, John met Dona Maria Aboitiz, the matriarch of the prominent Aboitiz Company, who was making rattan furniture for her own use. John saw the potential of rattan and in 1948 contacted Dona Maria who agreed to produce rattan furniture for him to design and sell. The McGuire Furniture Company was born. Today, Josephine Booth, the daughter of Dona Maria, with her son, Robert Booth, still supply furniture to the McGuire Furniture Company. They became an extended part of the McGuire Family. In 1995, the Philippine Government, under the Presidency of Corizan Aquino, honored John with an award for his leadership in developing the rattan furniture industry in the Philippines.

John was the innovator and promoter. Elinor was the accountant and business manager and had design and engineering experience with the Boeing Aircraft Corporation. Together these two entrepreneurs designed furniture for the company. With their patented invention of applying rawhide to bind the rattan and the introduction of color to the rattan, they created the most uniquely designed and fashionable rattan furniture on the market. The McGuire collection grew over the years to include the use of different materials including willow, redwood, teak, special bamboos and Oriental hardwood. With their keen sense of style and design excellence, John and Elinor created furniture which appeared in many of the finest residences, resorts, hotels, clubs, restaurants and even in the Nixon White House and yacht. Town & Country Magazine would write, "A McGuire in the drawing room is on a par with a Rolls in the garage". Some of the first McGuire designs are now part of the permanent Smithsonian Collection at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York City.

John and Elinor were leaders in the area of employee relations. They understood that their employees were essential to the success of the company, and they considered them a part of the McGuire Furniture Company family. John possessed a keen interest in others, as was shown to a new young employee Frank Doodha. He befriended and mentored this 15 year old boy who under his guidance and friendship became President of the McGuire Company after the company was sold to Chicago Pacific in 1986 and John and Elinor retired. The Company is now owned by the Kohler Co.

From their first years together, John and Elinor traveled the world promoting their furniture. John met thousands of people during his life and reign as Chairman and CEO of the McGuire Company, many became cherished friends. In their retirement, they continued to travel and visit friends all over the United States, and in London, Munich, Paris, Milan, Rome, Hong Kong, and of course, the Philippines.

For each of us who knew John, we knew a man who was vibrant and fun, who had great wit which was was formidable, amusing and contagious and who told delightful stories. He loved his family, and was a favorite Uncle to his many nieces and nephews and their husbands and wives and all their children.  He was delighted to meet new people. He wrote hundreds of letters to friends throughout his life.  How many of us got calls in the early morning as he was up early and ready to make contact! He had an amazing life and we are all enriched to have shared it with him. John's family consider themselves remarkably fortunate to have been nurtured by him and he was a proud father of his children and an especially proud grandfather to his grandchildren.

A memorial service for John will be held on Friday, February 14, 2014, at 2:00 PM at the Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 147 NW 19th Avenue, Portland, Oregon.  

Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Jan. 18 to Jan. 26, 2014
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