Television executive, gardener, beekeeper
John Atkinson. (Courtesy photo)
On Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, John Atkinson, a wry, intelligent, curious, affectionate, and dedicated father of three, died at age 90. He was a 30-year resident of Harvard before moving to Maine in 2003, and was most recently a resident of Schooner Cove Retirement Community in Damariscotta, Maine.
John was born in New York City and moved to Long Island with his family when he was a teenager. His stories of life as an impish and impressionable Irish-American boy in the 1930s and ’40s included adventures as a turnstile boy for his beloved Dodgers at Ebbets Field, spotting the Hindenburg blimp as it sailed over the city’s rooftops, and going to the Macy’s Day parade, which became a holiday television tradition in his later years.
After high school John entered Hofstra University to study business administration. He left early to join the Army and served as a radar technician during the Korean War. Once he was discharged, he enrolled in the Television Workshop in New York City and landed his first broadcasting job at WIFE-TV in Dayton, Ohio, launching his long and somewhat star-studded television career.
In 1960, when working as a producer-director at WPRO-TV in Rhode Island, he met and married the love of his life, Roberta [Bobbi] Guillet.
He and Bobbi moved to Massachusetts in 1970, where he became an award-winning television executive at WNAC-TV. Among the highlights of his two decades at Boston’s Channel 7 was traveling with Seiji Ozawa and principals from the Boston Symphony Orchestra to produce a documentary about Ozawa’s return to China after the normalization of diplomatic relations with the U.S. Toward the end of his career in broadcasting, John worked in the emerging tech sector, consulting on innovative teleconferencing projects for both Wang Laboratories and Digital Equipment Corporation, and in education as an instructor at Emerson College.
A resident of Harvard from 1970 to 2003, John was a tenacious learner who acquired many skills and hobbies that he pursued in his backyard and basement workshop. An avid gardener by age 13, he often began and closed his days by planning, starting, tending, harvesting or preserving his fruits and vegetables. He introduced Bobbi to gardening when they were newlyweds, and together they created beautiful and bountiful landscapes wherever they lived. Their post-retirement gardens were among their most productive and artistic. Another hallmark of John’s character was his sharp wit. He rarely ceded an opportunity for a well-timed wisecrack or joke, regardless of audience sensitivities.
After retiring, John served on several town organizations including the Harvard Historical Society, Warner Free Lecture Trust, the Community Cable Access Committee, and the Board of Assessors. He was also a longtime member of the Harvard Unitarian Church. He was happiest, however, when working outside. On his 60th birthday, Bobbi’s inspired gift of a beehive led John to the only pursuit that challenged gardening as his favorite pastime. Over the years his bees’ honey and beeswax candles grew from family staples into a local micro-business. He also enjoyed raising chickens, fishing, reading, traveling, canine companionship, and the many joys of being a grandfather. After he and Bobbi relocated to Maine in 2003, his life continued to be enriched by family, friends, and his love of reading, history, politics, and technology.
John leaves behind his wife of 58 years, Bobbi Atkinson of Damariscotta, Maine; son Peter Atkinson of Ipswich; daughters Elizabeth Atkinson Eames of Newburyport and Jennifer Atkinson of Damariscotta, Maine; sons-in-law Erik Eames and Mike Tatro; his grandchildren Madeleine, Nathaniel, Sarah, Sopna, and Miguel; and many nieces and nephews. On Sunday afternoon, April 14, a gathering in his memory will be held at Schooner Cove Retirement Community. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating a gift of honeybees to families around the world through Heifer International, www.heifer.org/gift-catalog/animals-nutrition/honeybees-donation.html.
Condolences and messages for his family may be expressed by visiting www.StrongHancock.com, the website for the Strong Hancock Funeral Home in Damariscotta.