Obituary: John “Jay” Pilon

Salesman, world traveler, beloved bard

John E. “Jay” Pilon, a longtime Claremont resident, died February 27, 2016 in Palm Desert. He was 90.

A native of Chicago, Mr. Pilon was the son of Viateur L. and Eleanor Perreault Pilon, born on November 17, 1925. He moved to Peoria with his family in February 1935. Young Jay attended St. Bernard parochial school and graduated from Spalding Institute in 1943.

After serving as an ensign in the United States Navy during World War II, he attended Bradley University, graduating in 1948 with a degree in mathematics. Later that year, he married Cecilia Macdonald, who he first met while in the fourth grade at St. Bernard’s.

Mr. Pilon worked for the Caterpillar tractor company for 12 years as a district representative both in Washington, DC and California. While in Washington, he was instrumental in the sale of earthmoving equipment into Antarctica as part of “Operation Deep Freeze”—the exploration of the South Pole. In 1960 his business travels brought him and his family, which now included four children, to Claremont. In 1961, he became general sales manager at Shepherd Machinery in Whittier. Mr. Pilon later went on to become one of the founding members of the Southern California Contractors Association.

While residing in Claremont, he and his wife were active members at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church and all four of their children graduated from the church school. Many of the friendships that were forged back then endure to this day. In 1977, he accepted a position as president of Pacific Machinery, the Caterpillar dealer in Hawaii, and ultimately served as senior vice president of Theo H. Davies, one of Hawaii’s “Big Five” trading and agricultural companies. He and Cecilia retired to Rancho Mirage in 1991. Sadly, Mrs. Pilon died unexpectedly four years later. In April 1996 he married Mary Lee Potter, who survives him.

Mr. Pilon loved to travel and was fortunate to explore every corner of the globe. He possessed a dynamic personality, a quick wit and a wonderful sense of humor. He was an accomplished public speaker and loved to write short poems of tribute to friends and co-workers, earning him the nickname “The Bard of Bishop Street.” For all his talent with the spoken and written word, he believed that actions spoke much louder than words, which is why he was such a magnificent role model and mentor.

Mr. Pilon is survived by his daughter, Stephanie Pinney of Rancho Bernardo, California; by his sons John “Mac” Pilon (Trish) of Claremont, Dan Pilon (Jan) of Azusa and Bob Pilon (Frani) of Claremont; by his brother, Jerry Pilon (Katie) of Washington, Illinois; and by his sisters Annette Maibach and Diane Nowlan (Wayne) of Peoria, Illinois, Cecile Langford (Russell) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Estelle Pilon of Goodyear, Arizona. He also leaves six grandchildren, Scott Pilon (Amy), Sara Tracy (Russell), Christopher Pinney (Marci), John Pinney (Katie), Sean Pilon and David Pilon (Ashley) as well as eight great-grandchildre

In addition to his first wife, Mr. Pilon was predeceased by brothers Armand, Bernard, Ronald and Robert Pilon.  

A celebration of his life will be held on March 17 at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Assumption Catholic Church, 435 N. Berkeley Ave. in Claremont. A reception will immediately follow the service.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association, 69730 Highway 111, Suite 100, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270.


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