A Tribute to John Talcott Jr.

John Gardiner Talcott, Jr.
A Tribute by Dr. Paul Jehle,
Senior Pastor – The New Testament Church
Executive Director – Plymouth Rock Foundation

Not too many people in America have experienced and also served in such a wide variety of ways as did John G. Talcott, Jr. John remembered the very first Armistice Day in 1918 which he attended. He also met John Phillips Souza after a concert. Descended from Pilgrim John Chilton of the Mayflower, his ancestors were also a part of the migration that began the Connecticut Colony under the leadership of Thomas Hooker. He grew up not far from where they first planted the colony, in the Talcottville section of Vernon. How many people can say they grew up in a village named after one of their ancestors!

John getting a ride in
his 1909 Model T

But in John Talcott’s mind he did not receive an abundance of experiences or an ancestry so that he might be admired by others. Throughout his life he remained a child at heart with a central focus of demonstrating gratefulness through service to others. His collections of antique cars and locomotives were always for the purpose of being shared or put in parades. In short, though he always appeared to have only a few words to say, the quality of his actions made him a giant! Truly his family and those of us who knew him could say that his actions did speak louder than his words.

It could also be said that his demonstration of heart-felt service, putting others first, gave him a platform to say whatever was on his heart when it was needed…. and people listened. His leadership style was one of loving action rather than platitudes, for he cultivated consensus and unity, gently leading us to a higher place of service toward others that included a focus on education. As an example; John was a graduate of Yale, yet after graduation he served on the Vernon Board of Education (four years as chairman.) He also became a trustee and incorporator of Springfield College in Massachusetts.

John marches in the July 4th Parade at 100 years old!

John served in the U.S. Army during World War II, attaining the rank of First Lieutenant in the Overseas Supply Division. His love of America’s freedom, and its root of religious liberty, led him to a life-long practice of patriotism that soon expressed itself in a love of Americana such as the automobile, locomotive, and above all, historic parades that honored the military and the wonder of celebrating the freest nation on the face of the globe. For years he served as a parade marshall in Plymouth’s July 4th parade and was a tireless supporter of America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Parade in November. Who can forget one of the oldest World War II veterans still alive marching in a town he loves in his original uniform?

Born in 1908, and dying at the age of 105, he experienced more changes in his lifetime than had occurred the two centuries before him here in America! His love of history and especially the role of Christianity and its expression of Biblical faith led him to join Park Street Church in 1954, serve as chairman of the 350th Committee to honor the Pilgrims arrival in Plymouth, founded the Plymouth Rock Foundation, become an active member of the Pilgrim Society (for whom he served as president in the 1970’s) the Old Colony Club, and served as the chairman of the Bi-centennial Commission which placed the bronze statue of Bradford on the waterfront – all before the close of the year 1970 when he was a young 62 year old!

But when most people begin to think of retirement, John was just getting started! In 1971 he became a trustee of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and in honor of his spiritual conversion at the 1950 Billy Graham rally in Boston, became a trustee of the Billy Graham Association. After all, he had brought Billy Graham to Plymouth to speak on the waterfront as a part of the 350th anniversary celebration of the Pilgrims’ arrival in Plymouth! Soon after, he hosted Pilgrim Seminars in his Plymouth home to help educators become aware of some of the primary source documents about America’s heritage published by the Foundation for American Christian Education as well as the Plymouth Rock Foundation. At the same time, he helped to start Intercessors for America, an organization mobilizing thousands to consistently pray for America.

In the 1980’s he was the director of the Ocean Spray Cranberry Company and chairman of the Centennial Committee for the re-dedication of the National Monument to the Forefathers. True to his Christian beliefs and emphasis, he brought Dr. D. James Kennedy of Coral Ridge Ministries to Plymouth for the August celebration in 1989 where he spoke at the re-dedication of Plymouth’s Forefathers Monument. Not a small accomplishment by the time of your 80th birthday!

He didn’t slow down then either, for over the next two decades he continued to sit on boards, give advice and actively participate in donating money as well as time to everything from Jordan Hospital to the expansion of Pilgrim Hall Museum. He was active, as an example, in attending meetings of the Massachusetts Society for Aiding Discharged Prisoners where he had formerly served as president up to the year 2011! He also continued to be active in Plymouth Rock Foundation’s board meetings and the committee that serves the town in bringing America’s Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration each November through 2012.

But even all of this does not truly describe the life of the man who was almost an icon in Plymouth. John had a simple, child-like faith in God as a Christian disciple of Jesus. He believed his family (and his grandchildren and great grandchildren) were more important than his accomplishments. He also had a deep concern that the freedoms we have come to take for granted in America get preserved. When dealing with these three themes, we begin to go beneath the surface and touch the very heart of John Talcott. He has left all of us a legacy of faith, family and freedom which we will be receiving for quite some time.

Let us all pay tribute to his legacy on June 21, 2013 at 6 PM, when a Memorial Service will be held at The New Testament Church of Cedarville (1120 Long Pond Road – exit 2 off of Route 3). Many of the organizations mentioned above will be sharing their thoughts about John G. Talcott, Jr., as well as tributes coming from his family and representatives of both the Town of Plymouth and State of Massachusetts. John Talcott, Jr. might not be comfortable with the tribute if he were here, but he would exhort us to follow his example in service of others. Let us emulate his example. In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family has requested that donations in his name be made to the Plymouth Rock Foundation, 1120 Long Pond Road, Plymouth, MA 02360, designating all gifts in memory of “John Talcott, Jr.”

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