Remembering John Bradley, True Friend & Mentor

by | Mar 9, 2022

Somehow I never crossed paths with John Bradley. I knew his wife, former town Parks & Rec head Cathy Bradley, for years and in reading his obituary it seems he liked a lot of things I liked, in particular, nature and trees. Yet, I did not have the pleasure of knowing John. I think I know why – he kept a low profile, little interested in the plaudits many of us are happy to receive for our good works.  

As EG resident Claudia Smith wrote in an email suggesting I might want to write something about John: “He was a friend to many, enemy to none.”

Bradley was a member of the EGHS Class of 1974 and became a licensed horticulturist. One of his enduring passions was scouting – he was integrally involved with Troop 2 East Greenwich for several decades, where he impacted not just boys but his fellow scout leaders. 

Here are recollections from just of few of them: 

Matt Wolcott, member of Troop 2/EG from 1990 to 1996
John was, by all accounts, young at heart and wise with experience. I knew John for most of my childhood, or as soon as I started in Scouts with Troop 2, East Greenwich. I would later go on to become an Eagle Scout which I credit a large part to John’s persistence and patience with me. It was down to the wire as I hurtled toward my 18th birthday (the cutoff to be eligible for Eagle), and I vividly remember evenings at John’s kitchen table, grinding through the last merit badge requirements and other advancement requirements on the long march toward earning my Eagle. He could have been doing any number of things that marked John’s many interests – balancing home life with Cathy and their baby girl or tending to the many animals he kept, like Herschel and Coco, his beloved spaniels, but there he was, holding me accountable and nudging me those final steps because he believed in me – something that I’ve heard echo in the stories of other former Troop 2 Eagle Scouts who were fortunate to know John.

From whitewater rafting trips in Maine to Civil War battlefield trips in Virginia to annual ski weekends in North Conway, some of my very best memories as a boy and young man involved John. He made Scouts fun and engaging at a time when the social, athletic and extracurricular pressures to give up on Scouting were constant. Of all the stories with John, one that I still tell to this day was on a backcountry camping trip in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains (N.H.). Forced below treeline to seek shelter and bivouac for the night from the remnants of Hurricane Andrew [in 1992] as it passed over the region, John found a tent platform that would be our camp for the night. Having decided prior to the trip we would “go light” and use tarps (if necessary) as shelter rather than tents, the situation on the platform became exigent as Andrew ripped overhead, bringing a deluge to the mountains. Making the best of a cold and miserable situation, the night quickly turned to laughter when, in the midst of heavy lightning and downpours, John sprang into action as the pooling water of the makeshift shelter gave way, pouring its contents onto several of us in our sleeping bags. John made the rounds throughout the night, periodically diverting the water away and doing his best to keep us boys dry (a noble effort despite impossible circumstances). 

That’s who John was. Always putting others first, never giving up on someone when self-doubt or long odds tempted resignation. I can still hear his infectious laughter and maybe even stronger words when I deserved them most, because he cared. 

These are just my stories. There are many more boys John worked with and mentored and all of them will have theirs to remember John by.  And I am certain that all of them are better for it.

Jack Romano, Troop 2 leader

I was not in Troop 2 as a scout; I came into after high school and then again after college. My own troop folded the year I made Eagle so I never got a ceremony until Troop 2 Scoutmaster Jim Essex invited me to join their Eagle Court in December 1977. That was an opening of the door to Troop 2 for me. When I got back to Troop 2 in the mid-1980s, John was full speed. 

John was involved in any activity that involved animals and nature. That was John. I was more involved in safety, first aid, emergency preparedness. John had so much knowledge, I would joke with him about it. He even knew what type of wood to burn in a campfire.

John was a worker. Whether he was in your backyard or scouts, he’d show up with knowledge, energy and tools. But if he did show up, it was always a full day with John. He would not stop.

An EG parade with, from left, Jack Romano, Chris Smith and John Bradley, holding a sign for Jack’s sister.

He was dedicated to showing up. 

Many of us take the highway in life; John knew the backroads. We’d be on a scout trip, maybe in Maine, and instead of maybe hitting the LL Bean store or the outlet shops in Kittery, John would know about some obscure museum somewhere and we’d go there. He had the knowledge and interest to do something different.

He loved his family, friends, animals, nature and some good food and drink. After a full day, John knew how to sleep. I almost believe John could sleep standing up. 

He fit the scouting line: “Scouting rounds a person out.”  John was involved with many things. His experience, assistance and caring will be sadly missed. A friend to many, I am proud to say he was a “best friend.” Relax John,  we got this.

Tim Cure, EGHS Class of 2022, Troop 2 Eagle Scout

John Bradley led the Venture crew, which is targeted to older scouts. All the boys from last fall’s Eagle Court are in that crew. We do activities with the troop but also just with the crew. One of John’s favorite things to do was to take us on hikes. We would stop every 10 feet to identify a different plant – he would get teased about it but that wouldn’t stop him. John would push the boundaries a bit in a good way. 

Claudia and Chris Smith, through Troop 2

“A friend to many, enemy to none,” wrote Claudia. They met 37 years ago, through Troop 2. “John was just the go-to guy you always went to from setting a tent to identifying any plant to just about anything,” said Chris. “He was a gentleman, a really classy guy,” said Claudia. “He made scouting fun.”

“A lot of the Troop 2 leaders never made Eagle,” said Chris, “so John was the one who mentored us. He was one of those real renaissance men. There were a lot of facets to John. 

He had a landscaping business. He was an arborist. He had a wealth of knowledge, even with machines. He did all his own repairs on things like backhoes, mowing tractors. 

“Whenever you needed something, John came through with a smile. He would arrange it and he would do it,” said Claudia. 

“He didn’t want any glory put upon himself. He wanted the accolades given to the boys. He never wanted the accolades, he just wanted the job done,” said Chris. And it wasn’t just about the scouting – he would stop by a baseball or soccer game just to see how the boys were doing. 

“He was the most selfless person I have ever met,” said Chris. “You had a conversation with him, you never felt bad,” added Claudia. 

The kids that knew him, multitudes of men, might say, ‘He was my best friend.’ A lot of people felt that way.

Stephen Timperley, EGHS Class of 2022, Troop 2 Eagle Scout

John as the adult leader of Venture Crew 2 taught me a lot about life. Until really connecting with John, life had always seemed to revolve around money but John showed me otherwise. John showed me that the value in life isn’t making money but finding your people and doing what you love. Like I already stated, John loved nature and found his people through scouts. He could tell you every plant in the forest. He could tell you every disease every plant in the forest could have. He really was a fountain of knowledge when it came to what he loved. He was always showing us things from how to chop wood to conservation.

He became pretty infamous in our troop for his hikes. We would often joke about his “1-mile” hikes that always ended up being much longer. He wouldn’t say that to try and trick us, it was just that he would rarely defer to a map. Instead, with him, we were free spirits in the woods. In memory of John, the troop is trying to name a trail in Arcadia after him. We joke that we’ll call it the 1 mile John Bradley Trail when it’s really 5 miles.

Quite honestly, my biggest regret was not going on more of those 1-mile hikes with him. Over the past two years, with us being busy high school students and him becoming sick, the number of trips and activities we were able to experience with him dwindled. Our last two activities with him were rock climbing and watching a ski movie at the Avon. John couldn’t participate in the rock climbing but he wanted to be there for us anyways. And that last day with him at the Avon I’ll never forget him offering to pay for our tickets. That was just the kind of person he was.

Here’s a video of John (and Stephen) jumping into a lake.

 

Godspeed, John.

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7 Comments

  1. bruce mastraccho

    When a beautiful soul has walked among us, beautiful memories are left in their wake.
    May John’s friends and family take comfort in those memories during this time of sorrow.
    Our condolences to all John’s family and friends.

    Bruce and Elaine Mastracchio

    Reply
  2. Hub Brennan

    I loved John. His passing has saddened me deeply. My thoughts to Cathy.
    Hub Brennan.

    Reply
  3. Terry Romano

    John Bradley defined friend. He was the guy who showed up. The courage and persistence he displayed these past years of illness were remarkable. Always the optimist he fought hard to beat cancer and with the help of Cathy and Amelia, he was probably with us longer than predicted. He had that rare combination of humanity that caused so many people to respect, like and be grateful that they knew him. Never seeking recognition or looking for gratitude, he simply moved onto the next project and act of kindness. Besides his vast knowledge of nature – latin names included, he was quite an historian. Too soon John. Spring flowers are on the way.

    Reply
  4. Michael bradley

    My big brother Johnny and I were very different, or so it seemed to me as a younger brother.
    John was into scouting, which he convinced me to join, at least for a brief time. Some of my coolest experiences came from scouting! Cross country skiing on the North Conway, NH trip was a small taste of what he wanted me to experience. There were many more, but I’ll save that for another conversation.
    My brother was everywhere, volunteering where there was a void and a need. He even made an appearance at one of my Little League baseball games, in full umpire gear behind home plate. Baseball was my salvation as a kid, and Johnny pretty much figured that out. As a result, he wasn’t negatively impacted when I left scouts to focus on baseball. Anyway, we were the visitors so we were hitting first. Being the 2nd batter in the order, I grab a few bats and start warming up in windmill fashion. I turn toward home plate and see Johnny and think “oh crap … how is this even happening!?!?!” Basically, I figured that being an exceptional “bad ball hitter” thanks to Mr. Beadle and Skip Barber “the Pitching Machine” … 1st pitch I liked I would offer at. The thought of John calling me out in strikes did not sit well with me at all. I don’t remember how many plate appearances I had, but I absolutely remember that I hit 2 home runs. They were legit, over the fence, homers. I had never done that before, and have never done that since. It was almost like my big brother was teaching me a life lesson. LIVE LIFE LIKE TODAY IS YOUR LAST DAY!!!
    Johnny did that and yes, I believe I gleaned that from all the moments we had together big brother.
    I love you more than you could comprehend, Johnny.
    Give Mom, Ryan and the entire family hugs and kisses for me in heaven big brother. Save a place for me at the dinner table for when the Good Lord calls me to join you all. Until then, may God Bless you and keep you❣️❤️
    Michael Joseph

    Reply
  5. Tom Rankin

    As the father of a Troop 2 Eagle Scout and former Committee member of the troop, I cannot say enough about John Bradley. As others have commented, he was always there, always ready, always willing to go the extra step, and nearly always smiling. Trying to supervise 20 – 30 young teenage boys out in the woods on a campout, or on a trip is not an easy task. Talk about herding cats! But John was always the consummate professional. Whenever the rest of us fathers were about ready to blow our stacks, John would magically create order out of chaos. And he never lost his cool. But what impressed me most about John was his selflessness and his dedication. We dads were there because of our sons. John had no son in thee troop: he there because he believed in scouting, believed in the boys. And he did it for years; he and Jim Essex both. You cannot do better in this life than that. God Bless you, John Bradley.

    Reply
  6. Heidi Johnson

    Thank you for printing these testimonies about John. Coming from a scouting family myself (my father & brother Greg were both Eagle Scouts), I respect and appreciate the value of what people like John mean to the scouting program…they ARE the program, and live by example. I could be wrong, but I remember John as part of my high school class, the Class of ‘75. I remember thinking when I heard of his passing, “our class lost another good one.” As the president of that class, I’ll say, Godspeed dear friend, and our deepest condolences to his family.

    Reply
  7. Andrew Davis

    So sad to learn of John’s passing. He was a big positive influence on me as a scout leader, part time employer and friend. I’ll never forget showing up for work and sitting in his kitchen with the crew and watching TV while we waited for him. There’s a small handful of us who had the pleasure of going to Florida with John to visit the Scout Sea Base. And if you were on of those lucky few we shared an epic experience never to be forgotten. It may have been one of the greatest scouting trips of all time. Thinking fondly of John and our time in the Florida Keys that he loved. It’s impossible for me to think of that time without also pausing to remember Todd Lloyd who we tragically lost shortly after that trip, he was a friend that we all loved especially John. Thank you John for all the fun we had together and for everything you did for me.

    Reply

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