My Friend John Lemon
In writing this piece, it was not lost on me the fact that anyone reading this story who knew John Lemon, would know everything I tried to say. For those reading it who never met John, 100 volumes of essays would be insufficient to truly know the man that John was. Yet I kept writing hoping I'd stumble on some magic phrase that would say it all. That didn't work out for me, so what you will read will have to do.
John was born and raised in London, Ontario, Canada in September 1943. One of four children, John spent his youth growing up in an environment that most can only wish they had had. His father was a family man, owned and worked their farm and held down a custodian job at the school district. His mother was a homemaker who watched over the four children.
When John left Canada to move to the U.S. it was to Southern California. He worked at Sears and Roebuck in the automotive department but when he had the chance, took a job as a Ford Lincoln/Mercury technician. As a Ford tech, John specialized in Driveability working in what they used to call the Tune-Up department.
John became well-known for his skill and experience and his likeable personality won over everyone who met John. I guess it would be fair to say that John never met a stranger because everyone he met seemed to like him right off the bat. I never heard anyone say a bad word about John Lemon. You may think I'm painting with too kind of a brush, but it was absolutely the truth.
John's son Lonnie began coming to work with John at an early age. And when Lonnie was old enough started working with John but as his own technician. We that knew them knew from the start that Lonnie would be at least John's equal which was a very high point to aim for most people. Not only was Lonnie intelligent and quick but he had an agressive style that really suited him. Both John and Lonnie were Ford Master Technicians. Not only were they Master Technicians, but both were Triple Masters or Grand Masters which means they were Masters in every field that a Ford technician could be. To achieve that is much harder than you can imagine.
I personally know of several issues that John and/or Lonnie solved for Ford that Ford had been unable to resolve even with a complete staff of District Service Engineers (DSE’s). And in one case, while discussing a technical discovery of John’s, he impressed an engineer from one Ford plant so much that the engineer told John, “I didn’t know that. No one here knew that. You know more about this part and its systems than we do and we developed and manufactured it.”
And since many Ford and Lincoln Mercury technicians work on a flat rate system of pay (essentially 100% commission) when John solved an issue that had been dogging Ford and its technicians for a long time, he would say, “...you know Joe, there’s no money in solving problems for Ford, and we’ll never get credit. There’s only one reason to find a fix for something…and that’s to get paid for the work we do.” That is very true. But I know John found a personal satisfaction in being the one to resolve something. Every professional technician who is good enough to do that would feel the same way.
Several of Ford’s top DSE’s who also taught classes at Ford’s training center regularly would stop by to visit John, and in later years, Lonnie. Many times they would ask him how he was resolving a particular issue. And trust me when I say this…they listened when the answer came about.
John and I had been friends for 29 years having met when I went to work at Phil Long Ford (Now Tuttle Click Ford) in the Irvine Auto Center. It was a very large, modern dealership and John was probably the most respected and loved person at the entire dealership. However, John and I became very close, best friends probably in 1986 when we both worked at Santa Ana Lincoln Mercury at its original location on Tustin Avenue in Santa Ana. From there we would sometimes work for different dealers but not for long and would “follow” each other as we “store whored” or job hopped along the dealership circuit. We carpooled for many years and since we were both born talkers, there was never a quiet moment in our cars.
I may be a talker, but when John told a story, he could tell it so well that even if you had heard it twenty times before, it was always just as interesting as the first time he told it. A born story teller I guess. I loved listening to John tell stories or just talk. I can remember when we both worked at Friendly Ford in Huntington Beach, California (see update at the end of this story) and carpooled. We got to work one day and were talking outside the parts department. My friend (and our boss) Gil Stanfill walked up and said, “I don’t believe it! You two talked all the way here (an hour’s drive minimum) and you’re still talking!” I said to Gil, “that’s how it works when the person talking has something to say that's interesting.” He shook his head in mock amazement and walked on.
When you are thinking about true, best friends, John Lemon was the model. Once he was on your side, he was loyal to a fault. You could count on John to be there through thick and thin, boom or bust.
I can remember so vividly, sitting in John and Virginia’s dining room at the table drinking coffee to excess. Both John and I were big coffee drinkers and had been for many years. John would wear out coffee makers sometimes in as little as three months. I would go to John’s house for our coffee and bullshit sessions every chance I could. And there were times when my job kept me from being there, but since I only lived about three miles from John, I could catch up fairly easily. I am so thankful for all of those times and visits. I’m glad I was there for every time I was able to be there. I loved John Lemon but then again, who didn't? So today I am glad I went to John's any time I could swing it. We would sit for hours and solve the world's problems one by one.
And even then, since my job in later years as an organizer for the Machinists Union required me to keep odd hours at times, I have received emails from John at 3:00 in the morning asking simply…”are you up Joe?” I would reply yes and he would say, “come on over.” John was a nocturnal man in his later years, and would nap when needed during day. His wonderful wife Virginia and the rest of the household was used to our wee hours of the morning visits and they tolerated us well….thank God.
In the early 1990’s John was diagnosed with throat cancer which they were able to beat with massive year-long doses of radiation. It cured the cancer but it singed his saliva glands which caused his mucous to be thick and hard to pass.
Then in 2003 John had a bypass surgery on his heart and there were post-op complications which snowballed into enough health issues that John was completely disabled. He fought all of those issues, but his health deteriorated until in 2009 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. I can picture as clearly as if it was ten minutes ago, the moment that John told me (at the dining room table of course) that he had lung cancer. I didn’t react one way or another. I just let it sink in. But I remember being convinced that John would beat it somehow. I was wrong. John passed away in the short minutes following midnight on his 66 th birthday.
Lonnie had called my cell phone in the middle of the night to tell me. I did not wake up with the phone ring, and Lonnie left a message to tell me that his pop had passed away. As with other bits of devastating news in my life, this one took my wind away. Even though I knew John was very sick, I guess I thought there was no way that the sun would rise on a world without John Lemon in it. Once again…I was wrong.
Since that day and today still, I retell stories about John, his beautiful wife Virginia whom he loved so much and his children. They all tell me I'm family there. That makes me happier than they know. But I am nothing like the story teller that John was. Yet I keep telling them. It’s my way of keeping John alive. And since I know there is a God in heaven , I know that when I pass, I will open my eyes and among other loved ones, I'll see John drinking a cup of coffee and I will join him once again in solving the world’s problems one by one.
If I am thought of and remembered in anything resembling the same respect and love that John had, I will consider my life to be a complete success. Since John was also a pilot and loved to fly airplanes, I'm sure his idea of heaven includes flying. So in John's memory I would just say, "I hope you fly like an eagle and land like a dove.". And save me a seat John, I will see you when the time comes.
John C Lemon
Update: Eventually Lonnie quit the dealership business and opened his own shop which has been successful. He has had it for eleven years or so. His son John worked with him for a number of years and also became a technician. Lonnie told me yesterday that John had gone to work at the Huntington Beach Ford store and will be the third generation of Lemons to twist wrenches in those work areas. I think Lonnie is proud of that and I believe John would be too.
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This Page Last Updated: 13 February, 2015
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