Cover photo for John E. Limber's Obituary
John E. Limber Profile Photo

John E. Limber

d. April 26, 2022

Shortly before midnight, on Wednesday April 26, John Edward Limber died peacefully at his home in Durham, NH, surrounded by his daughters, Kristin and Alexandra McGraw.

John was ill for some time, with cancer and Parkinson’s. Over the last few months, especially, he faced many challenges but with the help of his daughters and additional skilled caregivers, he was able to remain at home, which was his strong wish.

Born on Chicago’s South Side, John earned his undergraduate and honors graduate degrees at the University of Illinois, and was forever tied to the hapless Fighting Illini football and basketball teams. A win, at least every now and then, made John a happy member of Illini Nation.

In 1971, following post-doctoral work in psycholinguistics at Wesleyan University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, John became a member of the Psychology Department of the University of New Hampshire, where he continued to teach undergraduate and graduate students and supervise their research until his retirement in 2009.

His graduate students became his lifelong friends and, especially in his later years, reminded him of the powerful influence he had on them, personally and professionally. A common refrain was that he taught, and led, by example.

John was also an innovator. At the beginning of each class and then periodically throughout the semester, he warned students that while all views were welcome, they needed to be data-based and cogently argued. He never tolerated, he said, “B.S.” He brought out a rubber stamp and a red ink pad and illustrated what he would add, as needed, to papers turned into him. Note: the rubber stamp did not use the abbreviation. Neither did John. Any number of students can testify that this was not an idle threat, but they can also testify that it was always done with charm and flair, to move their thinking along.

John’s views were not always taken as gospel by friends. For decades, John was an active member of the Psyclones–the slow-pitch softball team fielded by members of the Psychology Department. John was the team’s main pitcher, and for decades he insisted he was able to throw a slow-pitch curve ball. Knowledgeable people (including a former minor league major baseball pitcher) denied the very possibility of such a pitch. But John scoffed at skeptics, as he explained the physics of why the ball had to curve when released it just so

John was a charter member of the “Applied Probability Group” in Durham–otherwise known as the monthly poker game. John was often the big winner of the night and at the last meeting he attended just a couple of months ago, he maintained his winning style.

John Limber was kind, nurturing, smart, and pragmatic. Some reference, however, must be made to his office and home filing systems. To the untutored eye, each place looked like a mess beyond messiness. In fact, it looked dangerous. But what could be a mess to outsiders, was to John an innovative horizontal filing system, and he was always amazingly able to put his hands on just what he needed.

John’s was a life well lived. At John’s core was his love of family. His care of his wife Beth (Elizabeth Ann Erskine) during her many struggles with cancer was exemplary.  Following her death in 1983, he raised his two daughters and kept the spirit of Beth present in their lives and the lives of those who loved her.

John’s close and deep relationship with his daughters was maintained with bi-coastal visits after they settled in California, married, and had children. John delighted in his role as Papa to Jack, Emma, and Kate (Kristin and JP’s children) and Mary Margaret and Finn (Alexandra and Brian’s children).

When John could no longer visit them, they regularly returned to Durham to help plan with him the next steps in responding to his cascading medical difficulties. More than one of his doctors marveled at John’s equanimity and the way he deployed his ironical sense of the world to play the difficult medical hand he was dealt. In January he enjoyed a party in celebration of his 77th birthday.

John is also survived by long-time friend and companion, June O’Neal of Portsmouth; his sister, Joan Deniken and her children John, Andrew and Ellen; and his brother, Jim Limber.

In the view of family and friends, John always found (and gave) the essentials: love, perspective, humor, and kindness.

We miss you, John. Following the example you set after Beth’s death, we will keep you present in our lives.

A memorial service to honor John’s life will be held at 5 pm, May 26, at Three Chimneys Inn in Durham.  His family and friends request that if you attend, you come with a story about John to share with the group. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in John’s name to a charity of your choice.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of John E. Limber, please visit our flower store.


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