John F. “Jack” Downs Jr. died on Thursday, October 14, in Greenbelt, MD, In his home of the last 68 years, holding his wife’s hand and surrounded by family. In 1951, Jack took Dolores “Dee” McClosky on their first date to a dance to celebrate Maryland beating Navy in the first game ever played at the new Byrd Stadium. He first met Dee in 1946, at a teen dance. Dee was hesitant but her mother said, “You know Jack. Why don’t you go? You’ll have a good time.” Jack soon began giving Dee dime-store engagement rings, every month for a year. In the spring of 1952 in the Greyhound Bus Station, Jack proposed.
Jack was born March 5, 1930, in Salamanca, NY, to John “Johnny” and Mary Downs. Johnny’s father was James, the son of Michael, who left County Limerick in 1851 as a cabin boy, sailing to New York.
Jack and Dee married November 22, 1952, at St. Jerome’s in Hyattsville. His brother Joe Downs was the best man. Jack is survived by Jack B and Jennifer, Brendan, Collin, and Devin; Mike and Resa, Kelle, Matt and Jen, Mackenzie and Zoey; Tom and Marge, Patrick and Jamie, James, Lauren and Sean, Braden, Nora Rose, and Joe; Dave and Lori, Jamie, Young Dave, Isabel, Mia, Anabelle, and Josh; Paul and Susan; Eileen and Bill, Nicole and Madison, Wesley and Andrea, Selena, Tony, and Bianca; Tyler and Christy, Jay, and Riley; Teresa and Rich, Zachary, and Casey; Chris and Mary, Jack, and Molly.
Jack’s siblings are Joseph Downs of Lansdowne, VA; and Kathleen Woznicki of Mesa, AZ. He is predeceased by a sister, Mary Margaret Kirkendall, of Shrewsbury.
Jack graduated from the University of Maryland and served in the United States Air Force. He and Dee settled in Greenbelt and he began working at the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission in Prince Georges County. Jack was with the Commission until 1992, retiring after and extensive term as its Executive Director. Those who served under his leadership praise the spirit of kindness and caring that was present during his tenure. He was often during the Christmas parties. One year he was made by his two-year-old granddaughter, Lauren, who recognized grandpa’s shoes. Jack also founded the M-NCPPC Retiree’s Association.
Most recently, as founding members of the 35-year-old Catholic Community of Greenbelt, Jack and Dee have enjoyed the fellowship of very committed members, and a range of traveling Catholic priests. The group began services in the old Greenbelt Theater and moved to the Greenbelt Municipal Building. For the last 19 months, they have held paraliturgies weekly on Zoom.
In their early years in Greenbelt, Jack and Dee devoted time to the Cana Club. He was also a 4-H leader and volunteered with the Laurel Children’s Center, as they busily grew a family.
Jack was parish council president of St. Hugh’s Catholic Church in Greenbelt, and active in the Cursillo Movement, Marriage Encounter, and Handicapped Encounter Christ, as well as a local meditation group. As part of the St. Hugh’s parish, Jack worked actively supporting the Poor People’s March on Washington in 1968, organized by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King. He also was active in supporting The Longest Walk in 1978, a peaceful Native American protest from Alcatraz Island to the Washington Mall.
In their later years, Jack and Dee traveled extensively, including trips with Trinity College such as Travels in the Footsteps of Paul, where they visited Greece and Turkey, and their first trip to Israel. In a range of Elderhostel trips, they spent time on the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations, and in Alaska, Ireland, and Quebec, as well as the Augusta Music Festival in West Virginia. But Jack’s favorite place in all the world is the west bank of the Cacapon River, just above Ede’s Fort on Compton Lane.
Jack and Dee did Volksmarches (ten-kilometer walks) in all 50 states. After their first several states, Jack helped organize multi-state walks such as the seven Southwest states, a wonderful way to socialize and enjoy the scenery. Knee replacements for both were hopefully unrelated.
Jack did extensive genealogy for both his own and Dee’s families and kept their large extended family in touch with a newsletter called Comings and Goings, which recently released its 570th issue.
A Community Celebration is being planned, hopefully around Thanksgiving. More information to follow.
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