August 2021

In Memoriam: John Bruce

Reflections on a wonderful friend

All of us at Cooperative Living, here and into South Carolina, suffered a big loss in June. Noted editor, writer and top-notch photographer John Bruce passed away suddenly at his home in Monterey, Va. I’m sure many of you remember John, or at least, his stories. They were always insightful, laced with a bit of humor, and his photographs were rarely short of stunning.

Richard G. Johnstone Jr., our beloved, recently retired executive editor at Cooperative Living, met John in high school, where they worked on the school newspaper. Then, both ended up at the University of Richmond, where, naturally, they ended up at the college newspaper. Eventually, when Richard became editor of what was then Rural Living, it didn’t take him long to find a place for his colleague.

Johnstone recently told The Recorder newspaper in Monterey, where Bruce was Highland editor, “It was clear that John was the consummate visual artist, his keen eye turning mundane images into interesting, intriguing, memorable photographs. … His low-key approach, rumpled style and sharp sense of humor were on display. He was always a lot of fun to be around, in the newsroom, in the classroom or out enjoying a fine meal.” The two were friends for at least 50 years.

After college, and before finding his way to Rural Living, John was a reporter at the Goochland Gazette. One fateful day in 1981, the young woman who sold advertising happened to stop by John’s desk. When John was introduced, Carol says, “He blushed. That did it for me. It was instantaneous. He was a really gentle person, and sweet guy.”

By the way, this sweet, gentle guy was a giant. He was towering; his presence commanded a room. During his youth, his nickname was “Tank.”

John and Carol “rarely ever spent any time apart,” she says. They married June 16, 1984. After 10 years at Cooperative Living here, they moved to Columbia, S.C., where John was editor of another co-op magazine.

But, the mountains called. When John saw an ad for the Highland editor at The Recorder, he ambled up north.

Recorder publisher Anne Adams remembers the day well. She knew John was way overqualified for the job and told him so. He told her he wanted the job. “Offer it to me now,” he said. “I’ve got to go look at a house.”

John bought a house that very day and told Carol about it. It’s a testament to their closeness as a couple that she was happy about having a new home she hadn’t yet seen. “If he didn’t know my tastes well enough by then, we’d be over,” Carol told Anne.

I didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with John, or Carol, both of whom I “loved” at first meet. I do remember a special night, though. We were all at a Virginia Press Association conference. We were there to pick up a pile of awards. After the ceremony, we went to the bar, with hundreds of other reporters and press people. We began to dance.

John wasn’t a dancer, but he was a great partner. Carol dragged him to the floor. He grabbed a cocktail napkin off the table. While Carol wriggled and writhed and pranced around him, he stood there, a sort of pivot point. Every now and then, he would roll his eyes, and dab his face with the cocktail napkin. It was a wonderful way to observe a true couple in action.

We will all miss John terribly. A great guy, gone way too soon. Perhaps The Recorder tribute said it best: “A job well done: Editor leaves a lasting legacy.”

Could any of us hope for more?

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