John C. Case, 1892-1983

Publication Year: 1984.



One night over forty years ago a tall figure walked into the firelight where my bride and I were honeymooning in the Tetons saying “Any room around the fire for an old man?” Thus began a friendship which brought John very close to us, as he was to so many others. Truly a “living legend” John was one of the vanishing class of great mountaineers in the best meaning of that word.

Bom in Rochester, N.Y. in 1892, John spent most of his youth in England and Europe and his association with French, Swiss and above all great British climbers influenced the rest of his life—his wry humor and style, his English accent, well worn tweeds and beret, and his philosophy. After schooling in Switzerland and Britain, he was a lieutenant in charge of a machine gun company during World War I and the few tales he cared to tell of that terrible period were fascinating. In 1916 he joined Socony-Vacuum Oil Company where he worked till his retirement as vice president in charge of production; he was primarily responsible for forming ARAMCO—a consortium of oil companies in the Middle East. John was deeply interested in the Middle East, serving for years as chairman of the board of trustees of the American University in Beirut, and he knew and sympathized strongly with the Arabs. He was friend to kings and ambassadors as well as peasants and porters; he seemed always at ease and made others so.

He married Anne Taylor in 1916 after a whirlwind courtship and they lived in Morristown, New Jersey, though their hearts were always in Keene Valley; John returned there to build a new home after Anne died. There with his two children, 8 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren he celebrated his 90th birthday.

John’s great love was the woods and mountains. He was a founder of the Adirondack Mountain Club, and member of the British, Swiss and Canadian Alpine Clubs as well as our own, of which he was frequent director and President from 1944 to 1946. At the start of World War II John helped organize the Tenth Mountain Division which many of the best American climbers and skiers made into an elite force. He was a special friend to many eager young climbers whom he loved to take on his favorite rock routes.

Perhaps we remember John best for his vitality and youth. Until his last year he rowed across the lower Ausable Lake to his camp on the upper lake, constantly devising ways to thwart generations of bears who raided his ice chest regularly. He traversed “The Range” almost every year, skied both downhill and cross-country, and cut and split his own wood. But when at age 89 he sought to remodel a really decrepit farmhouse we thought he had gone too far! Contrariwise, this challenged him to greater activity and interest, and the Beede House, beautifully restored high above Keene Valley will be cherished by his family for many generations. There is this one great thing about John: he never seemed to grow old; his body slowly withered but when he died gently at home, the spirit and heart were as youthful as ever.

Charles S. Houston, M.D.