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Official Obituary of

John Herron

September 16, 1947 ~ March 26, 2024 (age 76) 76 Years Old

John Herron Obituary

John Herron, a Friend to All He Met, Dies at 76 John Herron, champion of the downtrodden, consummate networker, loving husband, father and PopPop, lifelong Orioles fan, adorer of Irish whiskey, and self-professed "Cool Dude," has died. He was 76.

John died March 26 at his home in Catonsville, MD, from a cardiac arrest. He passed peacefully in the arms of his wife, Barbara.

He was born Sept. 16, 1947, to Joseph Herron and Catherine Hines Herron in Baltimore's Irvington neighborhood, the youngest of four. John's Irish Catholic upbringing exposed him to the tenets that would define his life and career: generosity, service and devotion to education, along with a dose of frivolity.

John was active at Saint Joseph Monastery Parish, and as an altar boy, he once lit every votive in the church, "just to see what it would look like," he would recall. It didn't play well with the priests, but the antic exemplified a childlike wonder for the world that John kept for life.

John joined a seminary near Erie, NY, for high school, where he developed a passion for the antiquities, learning Ancient Greek, Latin and the epics. Some 50 years later, he would realize his dream of sailing the Aegean, admiring the same stars that inspired Homer.

His calling to the priesthood faltered, and he soon after met his first wife, Eileen McDermott. The two moved in the late 60s to Baltimore, where John graduated from Loyola. They had two sons, Jeffrey and Jeremy, just as he was beginning a 50-year career in mental health.

They divorced, and a few years later — dressed as a coat rack at a Halloween party — John met Barbara Schwarz, a nurse with a heart as big as his. They married in 1992 and she brought three young children to the family, Megan, Scott and Jeffrey, giving John five kids to brag about — a feat he managed with ease.

The two settled in Columbia, MD, as their kids grew into adults, and soon had freedom to indulge hobbies. John — a dedicated vegetable hater — became a reluctant canner, horseradish processor and fan of fried green tomatoes. They saw castles on the Danube and stood on the Great Wall. Barbara introduced John to genealogy, and they diligently sought ties to distant cousins that turned into lasting friendships.

It was that spirit of openness, that willingness to embrace anyone no matter how unlike him, that defined John. He treated the homeless man with the same dignity he did any CEO, and with more than some politicians he crossed. John loved bringing people together to solve problems. No matter what the issue, he almost always knew A Guy.

These traits suited him well for his life’s work in mental health, which he began studying schizophrenia before he earned a master’s degree and then a role at University of Maryland’s psychiatric clinics. In the mid-80s, John founded Harbor City Unlimited, a public-private psychiatric rehab center in West Baltimore, which operated a residential building that gave patients the dignity of their own living space as they re-established in society.

He later founded Harbor City Services, a social enterprise that hired people society deemed unemployable: mental-health patients, people recovering from addiction, folks with a criminal record. Workdays started with prayers, relapses were tolerated as a cost of doing business, and the work got done with verve. Business didn’t thrive commercially, but a job at HCS empowered folks struggling with addiction and illness, giving them the pride and stability that comes with a paycheck.

Armed with an MBA he earned in his 50s, John pivoted to consulting. He advised struggling nonprofits, often finding ways to make them stronger so their services continued and their staff stayed employed. This work would enable John to stay active on Baltimore’s mental-health scene well into his 70s.

He was more than work, though. John loved the Dubliners and the Eagles, Miles Davis and Santana. He’d drive to Middle River or the harbor, volunteering to crew during the summer regattas, always finding an evening sail. He read avidly, from Plato to Louise Penny, but especially the Sunpapers — even after its diminishment led him to cancel in disgust, only to renew again multiple times.

He rooted passionately, at times angrily, for Maryland basketball. He was there for the Orioles' glory years, stayed for their slog into irrelevance and was in the stands with friends and family for a playoff game last year. The O’s lost, but John banked another great memory.

Those piled up quickly in the latter years, as he became a PopPop, a role that let him impart wisdom to a new generation and rediscover the joys of board games and HORSE.

John remained curious about life and a connector of people until the end. Worried he and some old friends lacked intellectual challenges in retirement, he started Conversations — a monthly gathering of buddies for what was a real-life “ask me anything” of venerable guests John somehow knew from his travels in Baltimore. He was, after all, a Cool Dude.

Through words and deeds, John exemplified a life of giving, empowering and loving. He never tired of telling anyone around just how lucky he was.

John is survived by his wife, Barbara Schwarz Herron; his sister, Kathleen Herron Gansereit; his five children, Jeffrey and Jeremy Herron, Megan, Scott and Jeffrey Brown; his daughters-in-law, Dina Lewis and Janna Elphinstone Herron; his son-in-law, Eric Sturdivant; his mother-in-law, Betty Schwarz; and his grandchildren, Jude, Addison, Owen and Kit.

A memorial service for John will begin promptly at 11:00 a.m., Mon., April 15, at Saint Joseph's Monastery Parish, located at 3801 Old Frederick Rd., Baltimore, MD, 21229.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in John's name at Maryland Psychiatric Research Center, where he began his career and ended it as a volunteer, "coming full circle," as he said.

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Memorial Service
April 15, 2024

11:00 AM to 12:00 PM
St. Joseph's Monastery
3801 Old Frederick Rd
Baltimore, MD 21229


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