John Richard Atkinson (1947-2021), a devoted husband, stepfather and a lover of Afghan hounds, trains and music, died of natural causes at his home in Orland on Jan. 25, 2021. He was 73.
John was born on Dec. 18, 1947, in Crouch End, London, to Nancy (Jagger) and Edward Atkinson. He spent his childhood in Richings Park, Iver, earning the nickname “Akers” among his peers at Langley Grammar School. John studied waste management and mechanical engineering at Hackney College of Building and spent his professional career as a waste management engineer for the cities of London, Slough and Leeds. He loved to regale family and friends with stories of the lorry drivers and residents he met in those jobs.
In 1971, he married his first wife, Rae (Gibson), and in 1975 they had a son, Douglas John, who died suddenly at the age of 14 months. The loss of his child was a heavy burden for the rest of John’s life. In 1984, he moved to Halifax, West Yorkshire, and worked for the city of Leeds until retiring in 1991.
The American chapter of John’s life began with his love for the comedic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. In 1994, his troupe, The Savoyards Appreciation Society (now The West Yorkshire Savoyards), hosted the First International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival and invited the Gilbert & Sullivan Society from Hancock County to attend. It was while working backstage for that company’s performance of “Utopia, Limited” that John met Rosamond Johnson (Ronny), whose group went on to win the competition. Their meeting was the start of a months-long correspondence and more than one trans-Atlantic trip (including John’s first-ever airplane flight), as the two discovered a shared love of music, movies and crossword puzzles, which they completed together in black and red ink for the next two and a half decades.
Eager to embark on a new adventure, John moved to Maine to live with Ronny and her two daughters, Jennifer and Lily Krichels. They enjoyed teasing John for adding ketchup to almost every meal (even lasagna) and came to love his sense of humor and the music and travel he introduced into their lives. Ronny and John were married at their home in Orland on Jan. 6, 1996. John was the household’s resident mechanic, keeping its Subarus in top shape throughout years of his stepdaughters’ school sports and extracurricular activities. When boys began to call the house to speak with them, he liked to make an impression with a loud, British “‘Allo!” John became known for walking his elegant Afghan hounds, first BoBo, then Aashaa, and most recently Maya, with a hat, walking stick and pipe on the roads of Bucksport and Orland. A portrait of him on a walk made the front page of the local paper in his early months stateside. John and Ronny took part in the Hancock County Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s annual shows as chorus members for several more years. John was a source of many anecdotes about the traditions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, having worked and performed with several former members of the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company while in the Savoyards.
Though retired from his early career in waste management, John found a second career as a school bus driver in Bar Harbor, Bucksport and Blue Hill. John worked safely through the pandemic for Surry Elementary School until the time of his passing. He was fond of the children he met on his routes, often recounting the amusing conversations he overheard during their daily rides together. For several years, he also worked for the Island Explorer bus service during the summer, shuttling visitors to popular destinations around Mount Desert Island.
John was a fan of Arsenal Football Club for more than 50 years and an encyclopedic resource on the history of the team for anyone who got him started. His knowledge of world history was also vast, and at parties and holidays he would often seek out a fellow history buff and discuss British and American politics long into the night. He enjoyed restoring and riding vintage motorcycles and was a lifelong train hobbyist with a significant collection of model trains, books and documentary railroad films. He was an avid photographer and made several cross-country trips by train, documenting them with the Nikon camera that was always by his side.
John will be remembered by his family and friends for his dry sense of humor, customary appreciation of a hot cup of tea, Indian cuisine and, of course, blueberry pie. He is sincerely missed by his Maine family, including Lesley, Faith, Peter, Eleanor and Michael, as well as family and friends across the U.S. and the U.K. In addition to Ronny, Jennifer, Lily and their extended family, John leaves his sister Julia Kellett, nieces Louise and Gemma and nephew Mark.
Celebrations of John’s life are being planned in Maine and Yorkshire. Gifts in his memory would be welcome at Surry Elementary School, Library & Music, 754 North Bend Road, Surry, ME 04684.