John FitzMaurice, right, at Town Day 2005. John FitzMaurice, right, with Ed Gordon, left,  and David Baldwin at 2005 Town Day.

John Aloysius FitzMaurice Jr., long a supporter of Arlington's capital planning, a "courtly and reserved yet friendly" man who aided the Old Schwamb Mill until the end, has died of natural causes. He was 87.

His wife, Patricia, a guiding force behind saving the mill starting in 1970, died in 2001.

The longtime Arlington resident who died March 8 was a pioneering physicist who worked on optical character recognition. In 1964, he patented what became known as"the FitzMaurice Reader," a precursor to today's scanner.

He served on the town's Capital Planning Committee and was the volunteered webmaster for the mill.

Charlie Foskett, longtime chairman of the town Capital Planning Committee, wrote that FitzMaurice served on the committee "with great distinction" for 19 years.

'Great attention to detail'

As a physicist and business executive, Foskett wrote, he "approached every task with great attention to detail. He was our resident expert on community safety and championed support of our first responders.

"He was knowledgeable about all aspects, from fire engines and the Jaws of Life to police cruisers, their mobile computers, armored vests and personal weapons. He led the charge on renovating the community safety building and the fire stations."

He also provided broad support to the other members of the committee, including inventory of all town buildings and making major contributions to each year's committee report.

"As one member recently remarked," Foskett wrote, "every time we review the meeting minutes, we think of John FitzMaurice, a hawk for accuracy in all things. This quiet gentleman, a leader in so many things, was also a hero of the republic, having enlisted in the Marines underage, and having fought in the Pacific Islands and China before he ever got to college.

"We will miss his kind smile, gentle leadership and wry humor."

Old Schwamb Mill webmaster

As Old Schwamb Mill webmaster, he was active the day before he died. He wrote Janet O'Riordan, a director who handled publicity, to let her know about correctly identifying two who performed at the mill's March 15 open house.

Dermot Whittaker, member of the mill's board clerk, wrote that John "remained an active supporter" of the mill over the past decade. "He maintained the mill's website single-handedly, regularly making recommendations for technical improvements.

"His visits to the mill were a connection to founding trustee Patricia FitzMaurice for those of us who were not fortunate enough to have known her personally. He graciously donated books to the mill that he and Patricia had used in researching mills and industrial development.

"His memory of the museum's history and dedication to its mission will be missed by all of us."

Ed Gordon, the director of museum programs in the red-painted buildings at 17 Mill Lane, wrote:
"John visited the mill as recently as a month ago to drop off a file that had to do with Patricia FitzMaurice's involvement with the Arlington Garden Club -- the Mill was featured on a couple of their house and garden tours in the early 1970s. He would stop by the Mill from time to time to give us other records that Pat kept as well as her books on a variety of topics for the mill's small library."

As mill webmaster, Gordon wrote, "as a man in his 80s, he was more up on computers than folks half his age -- he really kept up with the postings of our special events on the website. We offer a number of programs throughout the year so we really kept John busy -- and he never complained -- he was happy to help out.

Spoke in measured way

"John faithfully attended a number of our open houses, concerts, art exhibit openings, etc. over the years. I have this image of him getting out of his car in the Mill's parking lot, sometimes accompanied by his son Eric or his granddaughter Deniece. He was a distinguished gentleman -- courtly and reserved yet friendly -- very well spoken. He spoke in a very measured way.

"It was a great privilege to have known him, as well as Patricia -- who I did not know quite as well, although I did sit with her at New England Museum Association lunches back in the 1990s and brought a Victorian Society group to the mill back in the mid-1990s after an Arlington Heights tour.
"We are sad about John's passing and will greatly miss him at our gatherings at the Old Schwamb Mill."

O'Riordan commented:

"The mill was very fortunate to have John who continued to manage our website these past several years.

"Lately, he posted all of the mill's upcoming events. I would send him listings and photos which he promptly posted. In fact, John emailed me just Friday evening [March 7] concerning the photo of the musicians for our open house. He was so conscientious. Unfortunately, his computer was not able to open photos I would send him. John would make the trek from his home down to the mill in good or bad weather just to get a hard copy of the photo or poster which he would then scan and put on the website.

"I think he was amazing to have kept so involved in volunteering at the mill. If we all could be so active at this age! His contributions were valued and deeply appreciated and I will miss him very much."

Christy Cunningham-Adams, John's stepdaughter, worked at the mill as conservator for several years and is now conservator of artwork on the Senate side of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. She remains devoted to the mill that her mother founded and ran for more than 30 years, and to the role John played in Pat's life. She provided the death notice to The Boston Globe.

Board member Grace Dingee noted: "John's support as Patricia's husband and father was enormously important to the mill in general."

Obituary information

Born in Chicago on Aug. 26, 1926, Mr. FitzMaurice attended Morton High School in Cicero, Ill., where he was active on the school's wrestling team.

He enlisted in the Marines after leaving high school and was a wounded veteran of World War II. He served in the Pacific theater, was in the intelligence section, and a company scout in the battles of Guam, Guadalcanal and Okinawa.

Mr. FitzMaurice graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology with a bachelor of science degree in physics in 1951.

After further specials studies in physics, in 1954 he joined Baird Atomic, a scientific Instrument company in Cambridge, where he worked for 30 years as physicist, corporate development analyst, director of communications, general manager and vice president of corporate development.

In computer optical character recognition, he developed the FitzMaurice Reader, specialized in fingerprint-recognition technology and represented the United States in the International Bureau of Standards and Measures.

Mr. FitzMaurice is also predeceased by his parents, Laura Curran and John Aloysius Fitzmaurice; and by four of his siblings: Loretta Hlavin (Kenneth); Dolores Laurie (John); the Rev. Terence Fitzmaurice O.S.B.; Emmett Fitzmaurice (Mary Therese).

He is survived by his siblings Veronica Fitzmaurice Watts (Walter); Dr. Francis Fitzmaurice (Lavern); Loyola Fitzmaurice (Patricia); and his children Brehon Mason Herlihy (Ting); Christiana Cunningham-Adams; Robert Patten Herlihy; Elizabeth Fitzmaurice Elliott (Danny); and Eric Fitzmaurice.

A funeral was scheduled for St. Agnes Church, 51, Medford St., on Friday, March 14, at 10 a.m.

Visitation was at the Keefe Funeral Home, 5 Chestnut St., from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. Friday, March 14.

Burial was at Mount Pleasant Cemetery following the funeral.

In lieu of flowers, make a donation in his name to the Schwamb Mill Preservation Trust.

This story was published Friday, March 14, 2014, and updated thereafter.