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John Vlahos

1936 - 2017 Obituary Condolences Gallery
John Vlahos Obituary
John James Vlahos

January 4, 1936-February 9, 2017

John Vlahos, wearing tennis whites and carrying a racket, bounded into a rehearsal for the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta "The Gondoliers." Seeing Martha Bybee for the first time in his life, he thought, "what a babe!" This was back in the summer of 1962, and Martha had a different take. "She thought I was the biggest jerk in the world," John would later recall. But Martha, who would marry John in 1965 and remain his wife for the next 52 years, was won over by the same traits that endeared John to everyone who met him over the course of his life: phenomenal intelligence, humor, selflessness, and warmth.

The son of Greek immigrants, Dimitrios and Eleni Vlahos, John grew up in Tracy and Oakland. He attended the University of California, graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in economics in 1957, and was the sports editor of The Daily Cal. "Every Cal sports fan knows the meaning of suffering," John would say, and he certainly suffered a lot. From 1948 through 2015, John personally attended all but seven Cal football games; for five decades, he served as the internal press box announcer at Memorial Stadium. In 2007, backed by fundraising from the Class of 1957, he edited and produced a new Cal Songbook.

After earning a law degree from Hastings, John clerked for Justice Raymond Sullivan at the California Court of Appeal. In 1962, he was the eighth person hired at the firm that became Hanson Bridgett. In the early years he represented everyone from a bank robber to the maker of "Star Trek"-themed wine bottles. As the firm grew, he became the managing partner and also represented the Golden Gate Bridge District, the League of California Milk Producers, SamTrans, and BART. On multiple occasions John announced his retirement, but it never quite took, and he finished his last major case in 2016.

Outside of work, Gilbert and Sullivan remained one of John's lifelong passions. As a member of the Lamplighters theater company along with his wife, Martha, John's starring patter baritone roles included the Lord Chancellor in "Iolanthe," Sir Joseph Porter in "H.M.S. Pinafore," and the Learned Judge in "Trial by Jury." He served as a Lamplighters board member for nearly five decades and was president of the theater company for 35 years. Current president Jim MacIlvaine says of John, "He has quite literally saved the company with his leadership and fundraising abilities, garnering well over three-quarters of a million dollars in revenue for the company."

John's other interests included baseball and travel; he spoke English and Greek as well as passable Spanish and Italian. He led architecture tours with City Guides along Market Street and was president of the San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum. He and Martha sang with the UC Alumni Chorus and Chora Nova. John was both a stickler for proper grammar and a teller of uproarious, often inappropriate jokes.

John died in his sleep from lung cancer, at home, with his family around. He is survived by his wife, Martha; his sisters Betty Christian and Marie Petris; his children, Jennifer, James, and Jonathan; and seven grandchildren.

Friends and family are invited to a celebration of John's life, which will take place at 3pm on March 12, 2017 at the Mira Vista Golf & Country Club in El Cerrito. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Lamplighters (www.lamplighters.org/donate/donate.html).
Published in San Francisco Chronicle from Feb. 17 to Feb. 19, 2017
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