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John E. Derbyshire, 92, spokesman for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

John E. Derbyshire, 92, spokesman for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Nov. 3, 1927 – Feb. 2, 2020

John E. Derbyshire, spokesman for the Buffalo District Office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s and 1990s, died Feb. 2 in Syracuse after a two-year illness. He was 92.

In his broad-brimmed hat, he became a familiar figure on television in 1986 as he reported regularly on the monthlong effort to remove a runaway 250-ton barge from the base of the Peace Bridge.

Born in New York City, the youngest of three children, John Edward Derbyshire came to Orchard Park with his family as an infant.

During World War II, after his mother died, his father signed him up for the Merchant Marine at the age of 15, lying about his age to get him enlisted.

“He was a radioman,” his daughter Martha said. “He could type 120 words per minute on a manual typewriter.”

Completing his hitch in that branch, he joined the Army and, while stationed in Guam, broke his leg playing volleyball and was sent back to a hospital in the States.

He attended Wayne State University in Detroit on the GI Bill and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education. He met his wife, Cynthia Jane Harrison, at Wayne State and they were married in 1952.

Mr. Derbyshire found his first job as the host of the morning show on radio station WBTA in Batavia, where he worked for 10 years, and was a correspondent for the Buffalo Courier-Express.

In order to support his growing family, he also taught elementary school art in Batavia and later was a high school English teacher in the Attica schools. He also started a public relations firm. His first client was Barber Conable, then a state senator.

He left teaching and moved to Strykersville while working in public relations for seven years for Sylvania in Cheektowaga, then did public relations work in Syracuse.

Working for the newly established state Department of Environmental Conservation, he designed its familiar logo and helped develop its exhibit in the 1970 New York State Fair – a structure that visitors could enter and breathe totally clean filtered air.

He was director of public relations for Eisenhower College in Seneca Falls for four years before joining the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1981.

He attended the Army Advanced Public Affairs course in the University of South Carolina graduate school of journalism in 1983. He also did graduate work in English at Canisius College and completed a master’s degree in theology at a college in Rochester.

Moving to Lockport, he was acting public affairs officer for the Buffalo District Office for two years before he was named to the post in 1985.

His wife, who won awards at the New York State Fair in Syracuse for her quilting and sewing, died in 1998. He retired later that year, moved to Syracuse and bought a home with his daughter Madeline.

An accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, he became an Episcopal deacon in 1989. He served as Episcopal chaplain at Kenmore Mercy Hospital and assisted at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Eggertsville. He also was Episcopal chaplain to the Buffalo police and fire departments and at hospitals in Syracuse.

He volunteered with the National Ski Patrol, the Skaneateles Ambulance Volunteer Emergency Service and fire departments in Skaneateles and Greene.

Survivors include two other daughters, Catherine and Margaret; two sons, Traverse II and Andrew; six grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, in the Church of the Most Holy Rosary, 111 Roberts Ave., Syracuse.

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