It would be a travesty to limit the obituary of John Charles Klotz, who died fighting off pancreatic cancer, to a banal recitation of family and career. Because this was a man whose passion was to fight travesties.
He was a loving husband, father and grandfather; a legal advocate for people kicked aside by life’s bureaucracies and corruptions; a vitriolic thorn in the side of the Bronx political machine; an environmentalist; a self-published author; an ever-aspiring politician; and aficionado of classic movies and music (he loved and sang almost all genres), and the most devoted dog lover you ever met.
While overly fond of political arguments, perhaps, he always maintained an open heart. He also attended all 12 Klotz family reunions.
His marriage, to Irene Shane Klotz from Winnetka, Illinois, was one of his life’s constants. For 55 years, he spoke of her as the most beautiful person in his life, and he always enjoyed talking up her talents and accomplishments.
He lived through the exploits of his children and grandchildren, always proclaiming with relish how proud he was of them. The worst tragedy he faced was the loss of his youngest son, Michael, at 34, from complications caused by kidney failure and two failed transplants.
His story began in Syracuse, one of six children in a blue-collar family. His father was a machinist at Lamson Corp., his mother raised the family and also raised money for the March of Dimes and local Democratic club. He attended Syracuse University as an undergrad and law student through the Army ROTC program.
After receiving his legal degree and credentials, he ended his service requirements while stationed at Fort Sheridan, a now-closed Army base north of Chicago. For New Year’s Eve 1961, he went on a mismatched double-date with a friend — when the clock struck midnight, instead of kissing his own date, he kissed Irene, his friend’s date. (Her response? “Wow.”)
Their next date, the very next day, was in a fierce snowstorm — family and friends wondered if they’d ever make it back home, and appropriate metaphor (at times) for their life together. They married a year and a half later.
After the wedding, they lived in Syracuse for six years before he accepted a position with the New York City Bar Association. They moved to Riverdale in 1969 — which unfortunately coincided with the Miracle Mets World Series victory, and the Jets “guaranteed” Super Bowl win. In typical fashion, he stayed true to both teams despite all the lost seasons, and even learned to temper expectations toward the end of his life.
He chose his causes like his sports teams, always pulling for the underdog, the little guy, and used his talents to fight for what was right, no matter the consequence. His battles were legendary, yet rarely chronicled — fighting against the poverty barons of the South Bronx, crooked real estate developers, mobsters, the discriminatory machinery of the education department. His specialty was pushing insurgent political candidates through New York City’s arcane and tangled election laws.
Perhaps his most famous case was defending Richard Dupont, the ex-lover of Roy Cohn, from felony harassment charges. In a tawdry trial, the jury only agreed to misdemeanor convictions. The verdict came as a surprise — Cohn was a closeted powerbroker who built his career by accusing innocent people of communism during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s, and whose protégé and client Donald Trump is currently the president.
He was a champion of reform politics in New York City, and also ran for office — first in Syracuse, and then in the Bronx. He was never successful, but never let his losses get the better of him. Those who knew him admired that resilience — and the passions that fueled his resilience.
He was an ardent environmentalist. He represented the Sierra Club at the United Nations for several years, and sat on the board of directors for the organization’s New York City and state chapters. He pushed for safeguards on development within the watershed of New York City’s drinking water supply, and wrote on ocean pollution and corporate accountability in the peer-reviewed journal International Lawyer in the early 1970s, well before mainstream environmental organizations took up the cause.
He wrote extensively on the assassination of President Kennedy, was a former contributing editor of the Eastside Express in Manhattan, and produced a number of pieces for the National Law Journal, Newsday and other media outlets. He even wrote two songs about the political assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa.
His faith was always a constant. He embraced the ideal that God is love, was inspired by the environmental advocacy of Pope Francis, and insisted that there was and always will be a liberal wing of the Catholic Church worth believing in.
His final work was “The Coming of the Quantum Christ,” a treatise on the Shroud of Turin and its place in the world, that he self-published in 2014. His next book was going to be an exploration of light, quantum mechanics and divine energy.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Irene; his sister Marie; daughter Lisa and her family (husband Mark Dann, daughters Sara and Alyssa); his son Dan and his family (wife Meg, daughter C.J.); the wife of his late son Michael, Sara Jorgensen; and dog Bogart, named after his favorite actor, who was a loyal comfort and inspiration to the end.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the emergency department of Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, where he spent his last night. Donations can be made to Giving.MountSinai.org.