John Keating Willcox, age 68, passed away peacefully on Thursday, July 16, due to complications with COPD. He was surrounded by his children in his final moments, full of love, singing, praying, and telling of funny stories in which Keating had made someone’s day brighter.
He was born on August 2, 1951, in Washington D.C. to Harold Mott Willcox and Barbara Heckscher (née McFadden) Willcox. He grew up in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; New York City; and Beverly Farms; attended Episcopal Academy and graduated from Milton Academy in 1969.
A devout man, Keating was a lifelong member of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms. He also enjoyed attending Christ the Redeemer in Danvers. For years he attended both churches with their staggered service times.
Keating was known to many as a kind, funny, brilliant man. A member of Mensa, he first attended Columbia University, then earned a B.S. and Master’s degree in Computer Science from Boston University, a Masters of Divinity from Boston University, had completed all the coursework for a PhD. in Mathematics from Northeastern University and was working on completing his Doctor of Ministry Degree at Tennessee Temple University.
He taught Computer Science at Boston University’s Metropolitan College, but his main work was assembling a network of radio stations; one in New Hampshire, two in Rhode Island, and four in Massachusetts. Today, station 1570 AM can be heard over much of eastern Massachusetts.
He learned to play polo at Myopia Hunt Club with his father and remained an active player until his struggle with cancer in 2000. Though he rode with professional teams at Myopia in front of Sunday crowds, his favorite games were in the backyard with friends or in the indoor arena, usually in the middle of winter. He introduced people who had never ridden to the sport and lent his ponies regularly and generously so they could enjoy the thrill.
Keating learned how to luge and bobsled in the 1980s, which led to some dicey moments on the ice. He played kayak polo and bicycle polo as well.
His lifelong love was for square-rigged tall ships, starting in 1984 with the 50-foot brigantine, Glad Tidings, then in 1995 with the tops'l schooner Ebb Tide, and finally with the magnificent pair of seventy-foot long vessels, Brigantine Formidable and Brig Poincaré. He purchased and restored the vessels; Formidable is now a working tour vessel in Boston, and Poincare is with the Disney cruise ships on St. Thomas.
Keating was also an adventurous chef, entertaining friends, and family with recipes he had collected from his favorite chefs Pierre Franey and Jacques Pepin. He created a blue food cookbook, fish stick recipe cookbook and believed in the four major food groups: chocolate, chocolate cake, brownies, and chocolate ice cream. He loved his family, and his children especially. He named himself “Grandad Chocklit” to further connect with his grandchildren.
Refusing to let COPD keep him down, Keating continued to go out dancing three to four times a week at local venues with live music. He brought his children out with him when they were in town.
He was a brilliant and kind philanthropist that dedicated his life to understanding science, people, current events, and the finer things in life. His array of literature and cookbooks are extraordinary and emulate his passion for hosting crowds of family, friends, and neighbors. His life focused on giving to others and enjoying the humanity in all people. He made extraordinary efforts to connect with all of us.
He is survived by his four children: Barbara Willcox DiLorenzo (and spouse Jonathan Fisk) of Hopewell NJ; Clark Willcox of Newark, Ohio; Reinhold Willcox of Manchester and Melbourne, Australia; and Alexandra Willcox of Manchester; and by his grandchildren Renato DiLorenzo and Madison Fisk. He also leaves his siblings William Willcox of Groton, MA; Thomas Willcox of Washington, DC; Mary Willcox Smith of Great Falls, VA; Douglas Willcox of Newburyport, and his former wife Robin Kneeland Willcox of Manchester, MA; and numerous loved nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his sister Katherine Willcox Guerouaou of Annecy, France.
A virtual service will be held on Sunday, August 2, at 11 am through St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms. Details about the service can be found at www.barbaradilorenzo.com/keating. In lieu of flowers, donations to the following organizations that supported the family tremendously would be appreciated: Brigham & Womens Hospital and Dana Farber.