×

Geo. H. Lewis & Sons Funeral Directors

1010 Bering Drive, Houston, TX

OBITUARY

John Duncan

January 22, 1928January 12, 2020

John House Duncan, Sr. passed away peacefully on Sunday, the 12th of January 2020, just ten days shy of his 92nd birthday, surrounded by his devoted family. A native Houstonian, visionary, business leader, philanthropist, and proud Texan, John lived a spectacular life and knew he was blessed beyond measure. He ‘paid it forward’ every chance he got and felt a deep obligation to make the world a better place. John’s life is a master class in abundant optimism, vision, inspiration, hard work, kindness, generosity, and faith. His unique spirit will live on in all who knew him, especially his family, and he will be missed beyond measure.

After attending elementary and junior high in Houston public schools, John spent his high school years at Sewanee Military Academy in Tennessee. He then attended the University of Texas at Austin where he was a member of the SAE fraternity and earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration in 1949. He loved his time at U.T. and forged many friendships there.

Upon graduation, John joined the family business, Duncan Coffee, and worked there until December of 1950 when he joined the Air Force during the Korean War. During his service, he obtained the rank of first lieutenant. After the war, he returned to his work at the family business but eventually left for his next grand adventure.

The story of Gulf and Western is almost hard to believe. Who else but John Duncan, along with partner Charles Bluhdorn, could have taken a defunct company that made bumpers for Studebaker in 1958 and, through grit, determination and incredible tenacity, built it into American Parts System with 800 stores by the late 1960s? As the company continued to diversify and acquire numerous other companies over the years, it became Gulf & Western Industries with 100,000 employees by the early 1980s. John served as Gulf and Western’s first President and Co-founder and subsequently as Chairman of the Executive Committee. Later, the company became Paramount Communications. John also co-founded Gulf Consolidated Services and happily served as its Chairman for ten years.

John was a man of vision and action. When he saw a problem or need, he had the unique ability to pinpoint a solution. This was never more true than when he founded The Rise School, his proudest venture. Modeled after the Rise Center at The University of Alabama, The Rise School of Houston today serves as the standard for providing the highest quality of early education for children with and without disabilities so that they can become successful, contributing members of society.

John continued philanthropic work throughout his life. He served on the YMCA board and was deeply touched when friends surprised Brenda and him with the honor of naming the Clay Road branch the ‘Brenda and John Duncan YMCA.’ Most recently, John was the recipient of the YMCA’s “Legacy Award,” created in his honor to recognize 50 years of service.

The shared sense of mission, common goals, and teamwork John experienced as a member of many charity boards resulted in deep friendships. Most notably, he served in leadership positions on the boards of The Houston Metropolitan YMCA; the Brenda and John Duncan YMCA; The M.D. Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors; The University of Texas Chancellor’s Council Executive Committee; the Southwestern University, Georgetown, Board of Trustees; and The Rise School of Houston.

John’s many contributions of his time and resources were honored with multiple awards, including: the University of Texas Distinguished Alumnus Award; induction into the McCombs School of Business Hall of Fame; the Edward Clark Distinguished Service Award; the American Marketing Association Annual Award, and a Honorary Doctorate of Laws from Southwestern University.

And then there was John’s fun side. He met every day with a sense of adventure and optimism. He had a twinkle in his eye, an infectious enthusiasm for life and boundless curiosity and energy. He also possessed a wicked sense of humor. His jokes, trip planning, and pranks were legendary. Time with John was never dull – there was always an ambitious schedule of activities, games, and surprises. Vacations were for adventure, fun, and action. And there were always stories--nothing made John happier than gathering a crowd and telling them a fine tale about a recent adventure or practical joke he played on a friend.

John and Brenda were a devoted couple who shared a full and rewarding life. They traveled the world, but also found joy in the beautiful routine of daily life. They cherished time spent with dear friends in Houston, Aspen, and the Texas Hill Country, which all held a special place in their hearts.

John was a collector of friends. As he grew older and lost many lifelong friends, John made new friends. There were two groups that met for years on a regular basis much to his delight. Affectionately know as ‘The Geezers’ and ‘The Wisdom Society,’ these groups were a constant source of community, friendship and fun…and a few tall tales.

John loved to have the wind in his face. He would ride anything with an ignition key. He was a pilot, a sailor, and even a motorcycle rider. He first earned his pilot’s license in 1947 at the age of 19. He purchased his first plane with three other partners in 1967 and proceeded to ‘wear out’ 13 subsequent planes. He obtained his Glider license in 1975; received his pilot’s rating in a Citation jet in 1976; and was awarded the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association gold wings for actively piloting aircraft for 65 continuous years. Not one to rest on his laurels, John earned his last rating for piloting an amphibious aircraft at the age of 78.

As he grew older, John was full of contentment and gratitude for his wonderful life. He often remarked that, if he could do it all over, he could never be so fortunate again. His beautiful family is his proudest legacy. He humbly said that the best way for friends and family to honor him was simply to live each day of their lives to the fullest.

John was the son of Lillian House and Charles William Duncan, Sr. He is survived by his loving wife of 37 years and professed soulmate, Brenda Pritchard Duncan. He is also survived by his adored children: John Duncan Jr. and wife, Eliza; Nena Duncan Marsh and husband, David; Wendy Payne and husband, Bill; and James Ward and Kelly Cox. John was the proud ‘Papa’ of Kate Duncan Oshins and husband, JJ, Emily Duncan, Lillian Duncan Rau and husband, Ryan, Duncan Marsh, Garrett Marsh, Graham Marsh, Blake Poston and wife Savannah, Margot Poston, Michael Poston, Reese Ward, James Ward, Katie Payne, and Whit Payne. He was thrilled to be the great-grandfather of Harrison Oshins, Parker Oshins, and Ford Oshins. Also surviving John is his much-loved brother Charles Duncan and wife, Anne, and their children: Mary Anne Dingus and husband, Bill; and Charles Duncan III and wife, Leslie; and their families who he held dear.

With grateful hearts, the family wishes to thank Neva Walker and Julie Berryman, as well as Nobie Lawrence, Yolanda Delgato, Jhonn Zuluaga, and Belzora Easley for their devoted service over many years.

A memorial service celebrating the life of John Duncan is to be held at two o’clock in the afternoon on Saturday, the 18th of January, in the Sanctuary of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church, 3471 Westheimer Road in Houston, where Dr. Tom Pace, Senior Pastor, is to officiate. Honoring John at St. Luke’s United Methodist is most befitting as he was proud to be a charter member, joining the church with his parents and brother on its opening day at Lamar High School in 1947.

Immediately following, all are invited to greet the family during a reception to be held in the nearby Fellowship Hall.

Prior to the memorial service, the family will have gathered for a private interment at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.

Those serving as Honorary pallbearers are his adored grandchildren.

“The Duncan family wishes to express our heartfelt thanks for the many acts of kindness and outpouring of support as we bid farewell to our beloved patriarch. These expressions of love have meant so much and lifted us up. We are humbled by your friendship.”

In lieu of customary remembrances, memorial contributions may be directed to: The Rise School, 5618 H. Mark Crosswell, Jr. St., Houston, TX 77021; or the Brenda and John Duncan YMCA, 10655 Clay Road, Houston, TX 77041; or to the charity of one’s choice.

Services

  • Memorial Service Saturday, January 18, 2020

Memories

John Duncan

have a memory or condolence to add?

ADD A MEMORY
Sven Erik Alstrom

January 21, 2020

None of you will be surprised that John & Brenda were among my most gracious and thoughtful architectural clients for their Aspen home in the early 1990's.

Later I told a few clients about this remarkable couple. Last month I mentioned them while going through my portfolio with a new client in Leawood, Kansas.

The story? During construction of their home in Aspen, John told me that some of the times that we had met during design and development of the drawings - that they had been skiing together that morning, had lunch, and then a massage before meeting with me usually around 3 in the afternoon.

No wonder they were so relaxed and had such clarity of mind in expressing themselves while we designed their house! Hugs to Brenda and best regards to the family in this your time of grief.

To quote the late Architect Phillip Johnson, "Often it may occur that a client gets what they deserve!" as he congratulated Dominique and John de Menil of Houston, Texas.

Dena Houchin

January 21, 2020

Mr. Duncan and I never even shared a conversation, but I knew him by his decades of leadership at Texas Heart Institute, where he gifted his time, wisdom and resources.

A “ best kept secret” at Texas Heart is its Wallace D. Wilson Museum, and among its treasures is a small heart with words etched, “Papa I love you”. Mr. Duncan’s accompanying letter reveals the depth of his genuineness, character and love of family.

Mrs. Duncan and family,
Don and I share your loss, and pray God’s comfort for you at every need.

Nancy Hudgins

January 21, 2020

No one needs to tell you what a special person John Duncan was, least of all me. I had the great pleasure of working with John in 1982 to plan a surprise event in Las Vegas to honor his good friend Jack Trotter. He had such joy in making this happen, and it was his ideas and love of his friend that made it spectacular, like everything he did in life. I was fortunate to run into John at his office building late in 2019. He was the same smiling, joyful person, and that happenstance lifted me. He was genuinely glad to see me. Double that for me.

Catherine Graves

January 20, 2020

I thought I posted a tribute on this website 2 days, but apparently it didn’t go though. I was so sad to miss Uncle John’s funeral - I changed my flight home from a trip to Atlanta because it seemed imperative to celebrate the life of “the man, the Myth , the
Legend- John Duncan! ... but then got the flu and was too sick to fly back. His passing is devastating news to all who know him. No one cared more about his family, friends and fellow man. I know I’m repeating the same thing everyone has said .... Anytime you were in his presence, he made you feel like you were the most valuable and important person around. His genuine care and interest in others was palpable. The remarkable legacy lives on with his children and grandchildren! My deepest condolences to Brenda and all of his family. I know
my dad couldnt be happier to greet his friend of 85 years again on the other side of this veil ... and I have no doubt John is holding court and regaling everyone with his fantastic stories. Bullhorn in hand, organizing something fun for everyone around him, My Lily went to his funeral and said Kate and Johnny did the most remarkable job paying tribute to him. I will miss him so much - I alteady
Do ! I miss his sparkle and joy, which was was contagious and irreplaceable! Much love to all of the family.

judy allen

January 19, 2020

John was a beautiful soul and so good to his family, friends and community. He will be greatly missed by so many. I feel very blessed to have known him and call him a friend that I admired greatly. May your days ahead become easier. I am sending caring and friendship.

Richard Garza

January 19, 2020

My condolence to the family on the loss of John. I was employed at First National Bank in Kerrville Tx that John owned years ago. He was a great man and will be missed. Praying for the family that God may give you peace and comfort
May he RIP.

Anne McHenry

January 18, 2020

Mrs. Duncan and family,

I am so saddened to hear of Mr. Duncan’s passing. He was a very special person. His and the Duncan’s family commitment to the mission of UT MD Anderson Cancer Center was invaluable. I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Duncan over the past 30 years and assist many of the individuals he referred to the cancer center.

He gave so much of himself to help others.

May you find strength in your faith, your family, and your friends as you face one of life’s most difficult times. Keeping you in my thoughts and prayers.

Carolyn Baker

January 18, 2020

My favorite storyteller is now gracing heaven with his delightful wit and wisdom. John just had that special gift to make everyone he met feel so special. Brenda and family, please know that John touched my heart each time he shared a story. It was absolutely a delightful experience to simply be in his presence. My heart is with you.

Eddie Allen

January 17, 2020

Dear Duncan Family,
What a life! What I will remember from the times I was graced to be with John will be the twinkle in his eye, the stories he could spin, and his infectious laugh. Truly the likes of him do not come along often, and he will be sorely missed.

Randall Hicks

January 16, 2020

John Duncan always went out of his way to make people feel special. No matter your age, gender , lineage... John treated you as a special friend. He took genuine interest in others and always made time to listen . He will be missed. Rh and ghh

FROM THE FAMILY