John Conard

Saturday, February 18, 1933 - Saturday, March 4, 2023

Deeply Missed

Photo of John Conard  - 1933-2023


It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Mr. John Conard on March 4, 2023, after fighting a tremendous battle against cancer. He was 90 years old.

John was a steadfast man, a man of honor, and always true to his word, stressing to his children repeatedly: “A man’s Word is his Bond." He was a person of indomitable spirit, of a brilliant mind, and of absolutely astounding and fierce physical strength, even to the end.

John was a "people person" who never met a stranger, immediately a friend to everyone with a warm voice, a handshake, and a winning smile. If you were a younger man, you would be greeted with a “Howdy, Lad!” John knew more people, their family trees and their stories than could be believed, retaining an encyclopedic memory and sharp and analytical mind for all of his years.

John was generous with his time, his knowledge, and all that he had. We discovered, through the decades his many quiet acts of kindness to strangers and friends, gifts of service, and gifts of financial help. This stood in sharp contrast to his lack of generosity to himself — John never permitted himself any luxury, anything new in his adult life, without exception.

Mr. John Conard was a lifelong resident of Haywood County, whose mountains and people he knew and loved. He was the first of six children born to Millard and Bertie-Jo Conard on Feb. 18, 1933, in the home of his grandparents, Robert and Dolly Setzer Pressley.

John and his family moved from his grandparents' house to the old Champion Paper Fibreville "company houses" until the Pigeon River floods of that era caused Champion to tear them down; then to the Thickety Community (in a house he recalled his father bought for $1,200); then to Stamey Cove, where John could vividly recall the men in the community setting poles to carry the first electricity to the homes — he described one 110W line to each home for a bulb hung from the ceiling, as no one possessed any electrical appliances to consider "plugging in."

John worked hard from earliest childhood and for all of his life. It was all he knew and enjoyed and defined himself by it. At ages seven and five, Johnny and his next-in-age younger brother were responsible for gathering wood off the mountain, cutting small dead trees with a cross-cut saw that they could barely wield, dragging it home, building fires underneath the outdoor washtubs to then hand wash their siblings’ diapers.

As the eldest child, John was his mother’s greatest help when she was overwhelmed with child care, cooking, canning, and sewing for the family. He often helped her with these tasks and would sit under her sewing machine and push the foot pedals with his hands whenever her feet grew too tired.

Again, as the eldest (and yet-small-enough-to-fit) child, it was John’s job to clean the family’s narrow hand-dug, often crumbling well of drowned rodents that would foul the water or of caved-in sediment. He was lowered via wench and bucket to the cold bottom “where the sky was just a pinhole” pretending fearlessness but always relieved to make it back up.

In his later childhood and youth, John plowed many a field with a mule, helped build barns for neighbors, scythed and rucked and pitchforked fields of hay, building stacks around tall central poles braced by tripods, cleaned out barn stalls, and sundry other chores for neighboring farmers all for the princely sum of 10 cents an hour.

He was forever grateful to the neighborhood farmer, Roy Robinson, and his Conard grandparents (his own father was working in the paper mill and then trekking the long walk home) for taking the time and care to show him the right way to use tools. John appreciated being shown the Right way to handle a scythe, wield a shovel or an axe; the Right way to stack a perfect woodpile that one could be proud of, and even the right way to handle a broom — and would for his lifetime also try to share and teach that Right way.

In his youth, John enjoyed spending time with his uncles, Frank, Bud, and Tom Pressley, skilled mechanics and auto-body workers who saw the same talents in John. His uncles even let John help with Ralph (father to Dale) Earnhardt’s racing car. John recalled Ralph frequently coming to the shop with "Little Dale."

For fun, John and his friends climbed supple stripling trees and rode them repeatedly to the ground, played games of mumbly peg, spend hours running a wheel on a stick, and played earnest games of marbles in the yard. John spoke of all the neighborhood house doors being open to all the neighborhood children who ran with complete freedom in and out of each other's homes.

John independently discovered and mastered the art of riding a bicycle backwards and would ride backwards all the way to town just to see if he could do it, sitting on the handlebars and looking over his shoulder (just like later seen with Paul Newman in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"). Once in town, there were movies for nine cents plus five cents for an RC Dope and a Moon Pie. On occasion, John’s father would play the guitar in the Conard Brothers String Band. John learned to love bluegrass and folk music from that exposure.

John attended North Canton and Bethel Grammar Schools, then Canton High School. In high school, he joined the ROTC to then enter the Navy upon graduation. In the Navy, he traversed seas and ports of the Mediterranean and Red Seas, the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Seas. But especially the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean on the USS Greenwich Bay AVP-41, the flagship for the Commander of the U.S. Navy Middle East Force, described as a mission of goodwill and diplomacy.

John noted that the Greenwich Bay and its two sister vessels were the only Navy ships allowed to be painted white instead of Navy Grey due to the heat sometimes reaching 140 degrees on deck and were therefore known as “the Galloping Ghosts of the Arabian Coast”. John sent his wages home to his parents.

Upon completion of his tour, John attended Western Carolina University on the G.I. Bill (working at Champion Papers in Canton for extra money in the summertime). He achieved a Bachelor of Science in Business and a degree in teaching.

On his time off, young John took his buddies and boat to Lake Fontana where they spent days water skiing from one end of the lake to the other. John had a streak of the daredevil and, for thrills, he and his friends would park on the very active railroad track, partially deflate their car's tires so that they might hug the track, then coast to the very center of the high overpass where they and their dates would canoodle, drink a beer, then release the brakes and coast to land and safety.

With his college degree in hand, John tried what he thought would be the perfect job for him — teaching Shop Class in high school, but found that he lacked the temperament for instructing young persons who were neither as polite nor as earnest as students in his own time. So instead elected to work permanently at Champion Paper as a chemist in the Boilerfeedwater Division.

John was active in the union at Champion and was proud of his union membership. He repeatedly refused the position of foreman, preferring to be “a simple working man and no one’s boss,” and retired from Champion after 35 years.

Sue Ella Boone was the love of John’s life, and he was hers. Sue first saw John sitting across the park at a curbside restaurant in Asheville. At that first sight, she nudged her friend (who turned out to be his cousin) and said: “See that man over there? I’m going to marry that man!”

Months later, John and Sue were formally introduced, fell in love, and, in 1963, were married. They remained married for 59 years and nine months, living in the same house with the same telephone number (excepting an update of area code) for all of that time. John and Sue shared two children, Carolyn and Cynthia.

John, a Great Depression Era baby, despised and feared debt, so to enable early payment of their marital home, answered an ad from Sears and Roebuck for a second job. Sears was seeking an expert in lawnmower and small motor repair.

Young John actually had absolutely no knowledge of lawnmower repair (he described that there was never a need for even the reel-type mowers in the yards of his childhood, which were kept absolutely free-of-grass by the feet of children, chickens and dogs) but knew that any engine was his friend. He picked up his load of mowers from Sears and thanked them, brought them home and took each machine apart entirely in his garage that night, then reassembled and repaired them. From that moment forward, John was “The Lawnmower Man."

When their youngest daughter suffered a head injury and finances were dire, John and Sue sold their car and John’s boat, and other belongings and John created a third job for himself: proprietor and (sole) mechanic for “John’s Fix It Shop," where he repaired minibikes and go-carts, tillers and farm tractors. It became quickly known that John was a mechanic who could fix anything and he acquired a new moniker, that of “Doctor John."

Again, never meeting an engine he didn’t love and understand, John was a proud member of the Smokey Mountain Tractor and Farm Equipment Club. He participated in Tractor Shows and Tractor Pulls and loved to be the man with the tractor towing the children for hayrides at Christmas or driving an antique tractor in a parade. He collected hit-and-miss engines, old gravity gas pumps, antique tractors, and cars. Ever wishing to learn, he took a course in auto restoration at Haywood Tech in his 70s and applied those skills with enthusiasm.

John’s mind was a razor-sharp steel trap, always. He had an analytical and curious mind made for problem-solving and always apt for invention. He enjoyed finding novel ways of approaching and solving problems, mechanical or otherwise.

He also enjoyed using and inventing fun turns-of-phrase. Nothing was fine, but was “fine as frog hair." His children learned to their embarrassment and horror that doctors did not comprehend their descriptions of suffering from “A Case of the Creeping Crud." Excited descriptions of trips to the “Jumpy Jumpy Bouncy Bouncy Gizzy” confused then cracked up their more sophisticated fourth-grade classmates (who knew the toy by its correct name of "moonwalk" or "bounce house").

John’s physical strength and agility was the stuff of legend. In his 70s, he once held up "his end" of a carport overhead whilst two tall, fit young men in their mid-20s were enlisted to support the other side and help him move it. The 20-year-olds dropped their side, breaking John’s nose with the metal while John even then continued to hold up his end. John could always be counted on to hold up his end.

In his 80s, John said he retained the strength and agility of only rare men in their 30s, jokingly commenting: “I come from a long line of strong backs and weak minds!” Demonstrating that the daredevil still remained in his heart, in his mid-80s, John could and would still fearlessly cross a wide and deep ravine upon a hand’s-width fallen tree, balancing confidently and grinning like a madman the whole time. He climbed trees overhanging the river with a chainsaw and rope to cut and harvest “hung” trees.

At 88, John could still sit on the handles of a bicycle and ride it backwards, and not just that, but backwards and up a hill. He was often seen to lift and move 300-pound objects with ease in his Fix-It-Shop (from which he only completely retired at age 89 to care for his wife). He continued to split wood to stock his most perfect woodpile to feed his built-by-John basement furnace that heated the built-by-John water tank and duct system that criss-crossed the basement ceiling to provide both endless hot water and efficient heat to the entire house.

He continued to mow his yard and fields. He continued to maintain the cabin he’d restored at Crawford Creek and mow and rake its yard. He continued to drive to his younger daughter’s house (that he bought for her) and mow and weedeat her yard.

When he was 89, in March 2022, John suffered multiple pulmonary emboli that would certainly have ended the life of a "normal" person, but John had continued to do his chores and care for his wife for three weeks before even mentioning that he’d been having some shortness of breath and his heart was maybe beating funny. Reluctantly agreeing to go to the hospital, only there did he affirm to the doctors that he’d also been experiencing chest pain on and off every day for three weeks. John was immediately put on "blood thinner" to dissolve the numerous clots in his lungs.

Unfortunately, at that time, he was also found to have a recurrence of and, this time, advanced and metastatic lung cancer. He learned that his right lung was essentially gone, as massive fluid (caused by the cancer) had collapsed all but the tiniest upper portion and that draining the fluid was of no use, as the fluid would quickly reaccumulate. He learned that the cancer had already partially destroyed a right rib. And as if this were not bad enough news, he had also developed a separate, independent colon cancer. It was advised that John had weeks to live.

John lived for almost another year anyway. He elected to do chemotherapy and radiation and survived that. His oxygen saturation and other vital signs remained perfect until the week of his death. He continued to get on his ancient tractors that no one else in the world could keep running and mow his large field. He repaired a handful of lawnmowers and tractors for close friends and loaded them onto their trucks. He continued to climb his ladder, loppers-in-hand, to war with his wanting-to-grow-in-the-gutters-and-climb-the-roof wisteria vines, refusing to respect that he was on blood thinner. He continued to get out his bigger ladder, carry it to his roof and effect gutter and roof repairs that only he could perform to his exacting standards. The last time John climbed that roof was three weeks before his death. John could still arm-wrestle his grandson and win.

John had a green thumb — the long drive to his shop was an explosion of hibiscus, silky hydrangeas, Rose of Sharon, and other tall sweeping flowers. The backyard in spring was a wall of the white cascades of Pieris japonica. He enjoyed simply sitting on the porch with Sue and watching the hummingbirds at the feeders on the porch and feeding from his trumpet flowers and hibiscus.

He enjoyed men’s and women’s basketball as his favorite spectator sport, especially supporting UNC-Chapel Hill and his favorite color was Carolina Blue. He loved both simple, peaceful guitar music and simple, peaceful piano music. He loved Chet Atkins, Johnny Mathis, Johnny Cash, Roy Rogers, and Dollie Parton.

Mr. John Conard was preceded in death by his parents, by his beloved sister Diane, and by his brothers, Sam and Bruce.

Left to cherish John’s memory are his loving wife of almost 60 years, Ms. Sue Ella Boone Conard; his daughters, Carolyn Sue Conard and Cynthia Ann Logan; and John’s grandson, Zephyr Eric Logan. He is also survived by his brothers, Forrest and Jack Conard. He will be greatly missed by the many friends he treasured in his life who include, especially: C.P.O. Mr. Robert Mull; Mr. Mark Arrington; Mr. Robert, Ms. Julie, and Mr. John Cathey; Mr. Larry Middleton; Mr. Tom Corzine; Mr. Sonny Parham; Mr. Blaine Thurman; Mr. CV Rhodarmer; Mr. Steve Birchfield; Mr. Tom Boone; Mr. Don Davis; Mr. Sam Powell; Mr. Steve Kirton — and others we are doubtless forgetting to enumerate but who are nonetheless deeply appreciated for your friendship to and love for our John.

John preferred to have no formal services but will be laid to rest at Crawford / Ray Memorial Gardens.

In lieu of flowers, please honor John and lift us up by sharing your memories of him in a letter. Mailing address: 136 Longue Vue Lane, Canton NC 28716 or email :

Gifts in John’s memory may also be made to the American Cancer Society (Phone number 1-800-227-2345).

Condolences from family and friends

Johnny trained me on the boiler feedwater job in the mill in the late sixties and has been my small engine, lawnmower repair guy and friend since. Condolences to the family.
Carroll Israel
John was such a wonderful soul. I have never met a man that was more genuine and hard working. We became friends over our love for tinkering with mowers. John taught me so much and I will miss him dearly. He was a mentor and friend whom we loved dearly. I’m gonna miss my buddy. Prayers for Sue and the family. See him again one day!
Steve and Phyllis Burchfield
I am so sorry to hear about Johnny. I am disabled and living in Brevard and have not been able to keep up with a favorite cousin. I loved him like a brother. We had some good times together as a family. Thank God for wonderful memories.
Martha allen
When Nicholas was small he and Uncle Roy Sorrells would go to Johnny's to tinker with mowers. That is where Nicholas learned so much about fixing mowers. If you needed a mower part Jonny to the rescue. He will be missed by many. With sincere sympathy Janice & Nicholas
Janice Carver Parham
Dear Sue and Carolyn and Cynthia, I never met John Conard but I knew him nonetheless. My Daddy always took our lawnmower to him for repair and often spoke of him as a fellow millworker. Daddy worked in the Steam Plant at Champion and dealt with chemicals and water. . . so I assume this was how Daddy knew him... through work. They were in the office when John received the phone call of the accident and hurriedly hung up the receiver and immediately left in a run. Just a memory of a man whom I never met but heard so much about his talents and friendship. Carolyn, you may not remember that you came to our house in Clyde for my daughter's (Heidi Clark) birthday party and spent the night in her slumber party. A few years later I became your English teacher at Pisgah High School... at that time I was Mrs. King. I never met John Conard. . . but I felt as though I knew him. Just having these memories of him tells me that I missed knowing a "TRUE, GENUINE MAN", a man of HONOR and INTEGRITY and TALENT. May warm memories bring your family comfort at this difficult time of loss. God's Word is true... cling to your faith. Sincerely, Sharon
Sharon Byers Conner
As Johnny's cousin, I always looked up to him just like all the cousins did and there were a LOT of us. My late husband, Jim Ruff, met John through the Haywood Tractor Club and was a huge fan. Jim was very impressed when he found out that Johnny was my cousin. Wonderful childhood memories when our families would gather for picnics and the making of ice cream. I lived next door to his parents when my children were small and learned a lot about child rearing, gardening, canning and other important necessary skills that they certainly passed on to Johnny and the rest of their children. Even though I have not kept in contact recently, my heart is still broken.
Zeata Pressley Ruff
My heart goes out to the family of Mr. John I did not know him but after reading i felt like I did. He reminded me so much of my pa-paw (MY Hero) which raised me. There is something to be said about the folks that lived Great Depression as I am 60 today and even though my papaw left this world in 1993 at the age of 90. I never forget the things that he instilled in me hard work and “A man’s Word is his Bond”. They were great ppl that lived in that era and will be missed every day. And will never be forgotten.