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Obituary: John Owen Regan

Beloved grandfather, longtime CGU professor, traveler

John Owen Regan died May 13, 2022 at Mt. San Antonio Gardens in Claremont, California. He was 90 years old.

He was born John O’Regan on May 31, 1931 in Sydney, Australia. While he was a youngster, his father left the family and he moved with his mother, Lola Marjorie Pogonoswki, to Melbourne, where Lola’s brother lived. There she married Roderick Juchau, and together they raised young John. Wanting to spare him the prejudice they saw toward those with Irish Catholic surnames, his parents dropped the “O” from his last name, transforming it into the middle name of Owen. When he was 10 years old, his beloved sister, Janeta, was born to Lola and Roderick.

As he told the story, soon after graduating from Melbourne High School, he told his mother, “I’m going to go see the world.” And a year later, after working to save money for the trip, he and his best mate Brian departed Melbourne in a steam ship, riding steerage across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal, and into the Mediterranean. For the next few years he hitchhiked, biked, and camped around Europe, from Scotland to Sweden and from Italy to East Germany. With his big personality, good looks, and appreciation of people from all cultures, he made many friends.

Eventually, he became a permanent resident in Canada, where he supported himself with various jobs, including setting up pins in a bowling alley and logging in the Ontario forests, before eventually earning his undergraduate degree at McMaster University. He taught school in Canada and Germany (working for NATO). While teaching high school literature and dramatics in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada, he met fellow teacher Margaret Jessie Little, a farm girl from southern Ontario who was drawn to his energy, enthusiasm, and resemblance to Elvis Presley.

They married at her family’s church near Iona Station on April 15, 1960. His irreverence and sense of adventure were the perfect complement to Margaret’s reserve and decorum, and they both appreciated these qualities in the other. In addition, they shared a love of music, art, and conversation.

After completing a doctorate in education at SUNY Buffalo, John took an academic job at the University of Alberta, Edmonton. The couple’s daughters, Catherine and Alexandra, were born during this time.

In 1966, when he was offered a position teaching in the school of educational studies at Claremont Graduate School (now Claremont Graduate University), he knew it would be a good fit for the sun-loving Aussie and his young family. Their son Philip was born here, and they soon bought a home on 12th Street, where they could walk or bike to the Claremont Colleges, the local public schools, and the Methodist Church.

He never stopped traveling the world, and he made sure his family got to see it as well. Summers and sabbaticals were for visits to Canada, Europe and Australia. He was at the same time deeply rooted in Claremont, its academic community, the Village, the Rotary Club, and the Claremont United Methodist Church. The couple hosted frequent dinner parties at their 12th Street home. He enjoyed nothing more than bringing people from different circles together and listening to the wide-ranging conversations that arose from these events.

Although early on he worked to remove traces of his Australian accent because he thought it sounded too provincial, he grew to be extremely proud of his Australian roots; in later years he quoted “My Country,” Dorthea Mackellar’s ode to Australia, so often that his grandson Benjamin had it memorized and they would recite it together.

He was well-liked as a professor at Claremont Graduate School and inspired many students to share his passion for anthropological linguistics and semiotics. His long-running communication project brought together artists, filmmakers and academics to explore topics in non-verbal knowledge, semiotics, and cultural phenomena.

After receiving a Durfee grant that allowed him to travel to China, he applied his research in non-verbal knowledge and communication to Chinese speakers and the Chinese writing system. As he had throughout his career, he let his curiosity guide him to new pursuits as he undertook a massive project of history and archival work that began with the life of William Pettus and ended up encompassing much of the history of China in the first half of the 20th century.

He enjoyed making others happy and would often give bunches of flowers to friends, neighbors and colleagues. His children fondly remember his homemade pizza — all of the other cooking he left to his wife — he made for them and their friends. He also loved bicycling, dogs, and his children (not necessarily in that order). He had a zeal for language and talking, and fortunately his family members were all good listeners. He disliked sarcasm and rejected pessimism. His wife and children adored him.

After retirement, he enjoyed spending more time with his three grandchildren and took pride in all of their accomplishments. As his health declined and language became more difficult, it was remarkable that the words he repeated most often — amazing, wonderful, beautiful, thank you and darling — were all uplifting.

He was predeceased by his wife, Margaret Regan; his oldest child, Catherine Marjorie Regan; and his sister, Janeta Grady (Juchau).

He is survived by his daughter Alexandra Regan and son Philip Regan; son-in-law Andrew Plantinga; daughter-in-law Heather Long; and grandchildren Case Plantinga Regan, Greta Plantinga Regan and Benjamin Regan.

“We will miss his warmth and passion for life very much,” his family shared.

A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. Saturday, August 13 at Claremont United Methodist Church, 211 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont 91711.

In lieu of flowers, a donation to Claremont Graduate University’s John Regan Lecture Series at https://www.cgu.edu/give/, or the Margaret Regan Memorial Fellowship at https://www.cgu.edu/give/fellowships/endowed-fellowships/, would be appreciated. Contact the CGU Office of Advancement at (909) 621-8027 for more information.

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