The Life of Wyn John
May 3, 1928 â June 27, 2021
Wyndham Morgan John â Wyn to his friends, Taid to his grandkids â was born in Carmarthen, Wales on Thursday, May 3, 1928. Carmarthen is an historic town located on the River Tywi, about eight miles north of its estuary to Carmarthen Bay in the North Atlantic Ocean.
Wyn was 10 when World War II broke out in Europe. Cardiff, the capital city of Wales, and Swansea, an industrial city about 30 miles from Carmarthen, were both strategic targets of frequent German bombing missions. Anyone in Carmarthen could hear the bombs exploding and inevitably, soon thereafter, injured children would be brought to the relative safety of Carmarthen. One of the nurses tending to them was Wynâs mother Gertrude, who served in the Red Cross.
During the war, the Americans set up two camps for troops in Carmarthen â one was for white soldiers, and the other for black. At the time, females in Carmarthen were also subject to the discrimination of not being allowed to go out in public after dark. Itâs unclear whether this policy was to protect women from the war or from the American soldiers but, either way, Wyn relished the extra privilege he was afforded â much to the dismay of his sisters, Gwyneth and Isobel.
One of Wynâs proudest memories of the war was recalling Carmarthenâs connection to the famed âDam Bustersâ bombing missions, which were aimed at destroying a series of hydroelectric reservoir dams in Germany. The master plan involved a highly innovative âbouncing bombâ that was designed to skip over the surface of the water of the reservoirs before squarely hitting the wall of the dams. Wyn recalled watching flight crews of the Royal Air Force (RAF) practicing low-level flying and skipping bombs off the water of the River Tywi near Carmarthen in the weeks leading up to the mission. This may well have been part of what inspired Wyn to choose the RAF when he was called up for military service right at the tail end of the war.
Being quite a bright young lad, Wyn attended Carmarthen Grammar School. As luck would have it, he was forced to repeat his senior year, including taking his A-level exams, due to pneumonia. However, according to Isobel, he wasnât too upset about it, and actually quite enjoyed being in the hospital because he wasnât really all that sick and got to spend a lot of time with the nurses.
After high school, Wyn went to Manchester University where he earned a BS degree in engineering. Wyn also earned a masterâs degree in mechanical engineering at the Royal Aeronautical College at Cranfield, where he studied aircraft propulsion systems. Wyn played on the Cranfield rugby team, which somehow had come into possession of a very old and decrepit Rolls Royce motor car they named Matilda. On game days and during post-game revelry, team members would take turns squiring each other and their dates around in Matilda.
It was around this time that one Myrtle Stella Atkins entered Wynâs life. The Welsh national rugby team had recently beaten England, Scotland and Ireland to win the triple crown rugby tournament. In celebration, the Welsh Club Centre hosted a huge gala and dance at their London headquarters. That was the evening when Wyn and Myrtle first met, and the start of a lifelong romance and marriage that lasted 67 years.
Wyn and Myrtle had been married less than a year when they went to Egypt where Wyn had been stationed by the RAF. In addition to his official duties overseeing maintenance of V-force bombers, Wyn was also tasked with organizing a series of donkey-derby-style races, except in this case the âjockeysâ were RAF nurses riding camels instead of donkeys. During that period, the Egyptian president nationalized the Suez Canal, setting off the Suez Crisis, aka the Second Arab-Israeli war, in 1956. Myrtle was evacuated through Cyprus back to the UK, and all the while she was pregnant with their soon-to-be daughter, Rhiannon.
After leaving Cranfield, Wyn served a graduate apprenticeship at Napier, a precision engineering company that specialized in aero engines. Many world speed records on both land and water were also powered by Napier engines. Wyn was involved in the development of a jet aircraft engine called the Nomad II that was displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum and, during a visit to museum in 1965, Rhiannon remembers her dad proudly pointing out the bolts that heâd secured on the outside of the engine.
When his three-year service in the RAF was up, Wyn went to work for the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, which in the 1960s was primarily involved in the UK's nuclear weapons program. According to Wyn, it was shortly thereafter that he decided he didnât want to apply his engineering talent to the development of better and more efficient ways of killing people, so he started looking for other employment opportunities.
His good friend and best man at his wedding, John French, encouraged Wyn to apply at the same place he was working â a relatively unknown American company called 3M. As Wyn explained it, engineering was a captive resource within 3M, so when it came time to scale up manufacturing for the companyâs next new product and produce it for mass market, it was up to the engineering division to figure out how to achieve that and set up the machinery and processes to do it.
Wyn worked at 3M House in London, but a key initiative in the early part of his career was the T6 Coater project for Scotch tape, which required him to make frequent multi-day trips to the 3M manufacturing facility in Gorseinon, Wales. Over the years, Wyn forged many of his closest friendships with other 3Mers who were working with him in either London or Wales.
In late 1974, Wyn was presented the opportunity to come to America and work at 3M headquarters in Minnesota. At the time, it was unknown how long the assignment would last â one year, possibly two, but certainly three years maximum â because any longer would require 3M to sponsor Wyn to get a green card and state that there wasnât an American who could fill the same position instead.
In January 1975, right after the holiday break, Wyn, Myrtle and their youngest son Warren arrived in Lake Elmo, Minnesota. Their two older boys, Rhys and Owen, stayed in England to finish out the school year, and daughter Rhiannon had just left home to start at St Maryâs Medical School in London. Given the tenuous status of Wynâs work in America, the original plan was for Rhys and Owen to go to boarding school in England but, after spending the summer vacation in Minnesota, Wyn and Myrtle decided to roll the dice and enroll them both in Stillwater High School.
After moving to America, the John family lived on Lake Jane for many years. During the 70s, Lake Jane as well as nearby Lake Olson and Lake Demontreville (which comprised the so-called âTri-Lakesâ) were facing serious challenges with rising water levels. This was causing many of the low-lying homes to be in ever greater danger of flooding with each passing winter. A desire to help resolve the problem prompted Wyn to enter public service as a long-standing member of the Tri-Lakes Association and the Lake Elmo Planning Commission.
His growing interest in local affairs led Wyn to join the city council and later to run for mayor of Lake Elmo. Wyn served two terms as mayor, running unopposed in his second election. Other prominent members of the Lake Elmo community have stated that the reason Wyn was such a great choice to serve as mayor of Lake Elmo was because he was honest, open-minded, logical and, above all, unbiased.
At the time, there were distinct and diametrically opposed views on how to manage the future development of Lake Elmo. While Wyn had a deep love for the local area and strongly opposed rapid and unchecked expansion, he understood the desire of farm families to sell off their land holdings and reap the rewards of their family heritage. Wyn definitely had his opinions, but he didnât have anything to gain personally. He would listen and consider the views of others but, ultimately, the only thing he cared about or voted for were policies he believed would be for the betterment of Lake Elmo and for future generations of its residents.
As it happened, the possibly three-year stint working in America turned into many more, and Wyn and Myrtle became US citizens in 1989. Wyn spent the rest of his career at 3M, working with Occupational Health & Safety Products (OH&SP), the Magnetic Products Division, which was involved with the development of cassette and video tapes, and Optical Recording Products, which developed 3Mâs version of the laser video disc.
Throughout the years, many of Wynâs oldest friends and their families also relocated to Minnesota. For decades, holiday events and family gatherings were enjoyed in the company of the Jameses, Kents, Evanses, Brackleys, Laceys and many other fellow expatriates from the UK and the families of then current but now also ex-employees of 3M.
Wyn retired from 3M in 1993. Since then, Wyn and Myrtle have enjoyed traveling to places far and wide. That included visiting children and grandchildren in South Carolina, New Hampshire and Maine, taking cruises to Alaska and Hungary and Russia, and periodically returning to the UK to see close friends and relatives. Theyâve also enjoyed going to the Guthrie Theater, the Ordway and attending a variety of cultural events in Minneapolis and Saint Paul all year round.
In 2005, Wyn and Myrtle moved away from Lake Jane to a condo in Oxford Hill in Saint Paul. There, they met a whole new group of acquaintances, including Abby and Ken Dawkins, whoâve become very close friends over the years. More recently, Wyn and Myrtle moved to the Waters senior living community in White Bear Lake and quickly established strong friendships with many of its residents.
Wherever Wynâs friends and family may be â in America, Europe or other parts of the world â thereâs no doubt that he will be deeply missed by all. Although his passing came somewhat sudden and unexpectedly, one cannot help but wish that we may all enjoy such a long, happy and fulfilling life as Wyn John.
Celebration of Life event to be held on Tuesday, July 20, 4â6 pm â toast and remarks 5 pm â at Lake Elmo Event Center, 3712 Layton Ave N, Lake Elmo, MN 55042. In lieu of flowers, please make any donations to Opportunity Partners (opportunities.org).
Preceded in death by birth mother Gertrude (nÃ©e Morgan), father Meredith, stepmother Betty, sister Gwyneth Jones, brothers-in-law Geoffrey Jones and Haydn Thomas, daughter-in-law Kelly John, parents-in-law Walter and Emma Atkins, sister- and brother-in-law Marjorie and Wallace Maylott, and brother-in-law Neil Smith.
Survived by wife Myrtle, daughter Rhiannon OâConnor, MD (Scott and grandchildren Catherine and Megan), son Rhys (Kari and grandchildren Jordan, Taylor, Brandon, Ian and Colin, and great-grandchildren Kinsley, Fallon and William), son Owen (Chris and grandchildren Allison Page, Dylan and Wyndham, and great-grandchildren Eddie and Noa), son Warren, sister Isobel Thomas and sister-in-law Joan Smith as well as respective nephews, nieces, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
To view Wyndham's sendoff ceremony copy and paste this link in your browser: https://youtu.be/1U9toYkU4x0
To view his celebration of life toast, copy and paste this link in your browser: https://youtu.be/F71jQqQTNg8