John James Valentine Courtney, an intensely committed husband, gushingly proud father, a firm believer in Christ, a masonry artist, and an American patriot with an Irish accent, died in the early morning hours on Friday, August 26, 2011, eight days after suffering a sudden and massive brain stem stroke. He was 56.
John lived with an uncommon richness: rich with dear friends, hard work, passionate debates, but mostly, it was rich with a love for family. They were his life.
He leaves behind his wife of 27 years, Dorthy Mae Waters Courtney.
The two met in Southern California in June of 1981. While waiting to meet a friend, John asked for Dorthy’s phone number in a restaurant. She refused (citing a firm “good girl” policy of not meeting men in such places). Upon meeting her friend, the two went to another restaurant. John followed them. Dorthy relinquished the number, if only to get rid of him. Within 24 hours, he was making her dinner, and she was reluctantly realizing that John was something special.
He willingly continued to follow her: even to church multiple times a week and to frequent family gatherings.
John once made an onion and cheese sandwich for himself. Dorthy wanted to try it and ate the whole thing. John had never known a woman to like an onion sandwich. He later told his mother, Ann, that he had met the woman he would marry, all because of an onion sandwich, or so, that was the excuse he gave.
John and Dorthy were married in November of 1983 on Dorthy’s parent’s anniversary. They bought a home of their own the following year on Christopher Street in Cypress, California, and welcomed their son, Christopher Andrew Dwight Courtney (Andy) into their lives on March 6, 1985. Lora Ann Elizabeth Courtney followed two years later on February 2, 1987.
The foursome moved north to Auburn, California in 1987. John built a home for them on Pickle Barrel Road, and then later remodeled and rebuilt their current home on Winding Way that they shared with Dorthy’s parents, Dwight and Melba Waters. Dwight preceded John in death by several years, but Melba remains a staple in the Courtney house, providing a constant supply of fresh vegetables from her abounding garden, bread pudding at the slightest hint of one’s need, and a sweet consistency that John adored. John’s father, Christopher Thomas Courtney, also preceded him in death in 1997.
John and Dorthy were known for being a beautiful team. They opened their home regularly to friends, their children’s friends and their church. John delighted in having a full, bustling home. They were also known to passionately speak their minds to one another. Their children often rolled their eyes at their parent’s heated debates regarding everything under the sun.
John and Dorthy’s children, Andy and Lora, were an unmatched source of pride in John’s life. Andy, like his father, is self-taught. He taught himself how to play the drums, which he plays every weekend at Auburn Grace Community Church. Andy is working full time at a credit union, a job John was so proud of Andy for securing, while he continues to desire to earn his college degree. Prior to his death, John had just learned of a promotion Andy received at work, and John was just so proud of him he could hardly stand it. John delighted in Andy’s creativity, a trait Andy shared with John. He had the pleasure of knowing Melissa Gaylen Bloom, whom Andy is to marry late this September. While Dorthy had been contemplating how to talk to John about perhaps limiting the political discussion in which he engaged at the wedding, no doubt, John was beginning to consider the words he would want to share with Andy on that day—words of blessing, love, anticipation, encouragement, and pride.
Lora had recently moved home, after spending four years at Abilene Christian University and earning her college degree in interior design; she too has artistic talents she shared with her father. She currently has a visual design position at a local Williams Sonoma. Earning her college degree overjoyed John, but he was equally delighted to have Lora home, under his roof, after being gone for her college years. He loved his little girl, who has a striking resemblance to himself. He took great joy the day he baptized her as a believer of Christ. As a high school basketball player, he was her greatest fan. He was proud of the woman she has become and admired her creativity and work ethic.
John had an imposing, large stature but a kind, gentle spirit. He greeted guys who visited Lora at their home with an extremely firm handshake that not only showed his strength, but also seemed to convey that his strength could be used to harm anyone who harmed his daughter. However, it was not his physical strength, but rather his strong principles and ideals that defined him. He conveyed these principles not in his words, but in his actions. His faith in Christ was revealed by his love for others and his frequent teachings on Tuesday night small groups in his home. He took great care to craft messages to spur the conversation of those he deeply wanted to know Christ.
He also had a strong-willed way regarding politics. For being an Englishman by birth, John had a strong opinion regarding American government. Without apology, John argued the need for change in Washington. He was a republican through and through. He did not cower from a good debate with those of any political leaning and he could prevail against the most studied of academicians.
He was born to Ann and Tom Courtney at Charing Cross Hospital in the heart of London, England. Tom was a crane driver, who helped construct city buildings in downtown London. Tom and Ann later became landlord and landlady to a pub, first in West London, called the Three Pigeons, and later at the Elephant and Castle in Paddington.
Educated through life experiences, John was a self-made man. After finishing his classroom schooling when he was 15, he met a customer in the pub that took him under his wing to share construction skills. John would later travel to Germany to work in construction and feed his desire to travel. When John was 23, he traveled with three mates to the United States for a three-month adventure. The three mates returned home, but John found a new home in Southern California. He met the Feener Family, who helped John get a green card to remain here. He later became a United States Citizen in1992 with his whole family by his side to witness his accomplishment.
John later acquired his contractor’s license and began working with Lionel Teer, his Australian friend. The two first set out to build swimming pools as part of the “Southern California dream,” and later started J&L Design Masonry, the company John owned and operated until his death. Though Lionel moved back to Australia and later to New Zealand to teach art at a university, John continued to hold onto the “&L,” due to his dear friendship with Lionel.
John was an artist with brick, stone and mortar. His work can be found all over the state of California. As he worked, his clients, employees, and vendors became his friends. Wherever John encountered humanity, he collected friends.
Coming from England, it was natural to have a life-long love of soccer. He followed the Newcastle United Football Club faithfully and could often be found yelling at the television during a game. John grew up playing the sport, and taught many young children how to play.
For the collection of people that John has left behind, life will never be the same. This includes his wife, Dorthy Mae Waters Courtney, his children, Christopher Andrew Dwight Courtney and Lora Ann Elizabeth Courtney; mother, Annie (Ann) Murphy Courtney; his sister, Christina (Tina) O’Toole Whitehouse, and her three sons, Barry, Kieran, and Paul O’Toole; his mother-in-law, Melba Lee Waters, and a whole slew of in-laws who actually thought of him as their own family and loved him.
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
The rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.