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John Martin Stuhldreher

March 11, 1934 ~ May 8, 2023 (age 89) 89 Years Old


John Martin Stuhldreher died peacefully surrounded by family on Monday, May 8, 2023, at his home in the Creekside neighborhood in Sonoma, California.   He was 89 years old.

John was born in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and grew up in Madison, Wisconsin. His father, Harry Stuhldreher, was the head football coach and Athletic Director at the University of Wisconsin.  Previously, Harry was the quarterback of the famed Four Horsemen of Notre Dame. Harry played under coach Knute Rockne and led his team to the national title in 1924.

John’s famous last name would follow him throughout his life. He often joked that if he ever wrote his autobiography, he would title it either “Any Relation to…?” or “The Fifth Horseman.”

In 1950, John moved near Pittsburgh to attend high school at Shady Side Academy, where he made life-long friends and excelled on the tennis court and in his studies.

John returned to the Midwest to attend Notre Dame University on a Naval ROTC scholarship. He studied Industrial Engineering and played on the tennis team.  John also audited English classes whenever he could, and later joked that he wished he’d majored in English. Throughout his life John was a voracious reader who read for a few hours every day.

When John graduated from college, he was a commissioned ensign in the Navy and headed to naval flight school.

After earning his “wings” he was stationed in Alameda, California and joined an operation squadron flying multi-engine aircraft for the Navy around the Pacific and Far East. 

But he didn’t have to travel far to meet the love of his life, Mary Patricia (Patti) Burns from Seattle, who was teaching in San Jose. The two were setup on a blind date. During their courtship they loved going to movies like Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, seeing jazz in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, and playing tennis. They soon began planning their life together.

John left active Naval duty in 1960 and attended law school at the University of California, Berkeley.  That same year he married Mary Patricia in Seattle, Washington.

After graduating from UC Berkeley Law School in 1963, John began a long career in aviation safety.   The couple moved east to Arlington, Virginia in the Washington DC area to begin a new life.  Like many others, John heard the call to public service from President John F. Kennedy.

In Washington DC, John began his career in the federal government on the Civil Aeronautics Board and then transitioned to being on the “Go Team” for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigating airplane and major transportation accidents.  John’s children remember that whenever a major plane crash or train wreck was announced on TV, John would pack his suitcase and disappear for a week or so while he investigated the crash with the team. The NTSB was an ideal landing spot to pursue his career in public service as it merged his skills as a pilot, engineer, and lawyer. John eventually became General Counsel of the NTSB until retiring in 1986.  A few years after retiring, John and Patti moved to Sonoma, California to return to their beloved Bay Area and to be near their daughter Anne and husband Tim in San Francisco, but even more so to be closer to their granddaughters Zoe and Carmen.

Despite his lofty achievements, John was probably best known among friends and families for his sense of humor, as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of books, movies, and music.  He loved to share his opinion, sometimes too much. He was prone to spoil plotlines and story endings.  Some of the roots of this mischief can be found in earlier episodes in his childhood. For example, John and his brothers enjoyed sneaking into movie theaters and releasing fireflies from jars into darkened theaters.  

John loved a good story and a laugh, always willing to lend an ear and offer advice or find the humor in just about any subject. He was most often found sitting in his orange wingchair, behind an open New York Times or San Francisco Chronicle. John loved ice cream, pretty much anything on PBS, and watching sports. He and Patti enjoyed traveling in their retirement.

He is survived by his wife, Patti of Sonoma. John is also survived by his son John Stuhldreher, Jr. and partner Tami Hatch; daughter Anne Stuhldreher and husband Tim Wirth and their daughters Zoe and Carmen; son Billy Stuhldreher and wife Megan and sons Josh, Zach, and Julian.











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