JOHN DREW CHIPMAN
1934 to 2021
A big teddy bear
[Editor’s Note: There is a magnificent PowerPoint presentation at the end of John’s tribute created by his son, Matt Chipman. Be sure to click on the John D. Chipman link.]
John Drew Chipman—a man of delectable humor and positivity who cherished his wife (shown left), children and grandchildren—passed away at Aegis Assisted Living on Wednesday, February 3, 2021, in Granada Hills. He was 86.
Less than five months earlier, John’s wife of 63 years, Marylee, died at Aegis where both resided. John, who was suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s disease, grasped the moment sufficiently enough to tell his beloved wife: “We will meet again.”
A big, teddy bear of a guy, John had a lighthearted approach to life, especially when it came to his wife. Where Marylee could be tempestuous on occasion, he fielded anything negative with the ease of a standup comedian brushing off a heckler with a witty one liner. In John’s presence, everyone felt safe, warm, in the company of a best friend. He drew smiles, laughter, good vibes—always.
As his youngest son Matthew says, “Despite his size, dad was kind and approachable. And that laugh of his was so unique and identifiable; you would know it was him if within an earshot.”
A thriving practice on Wilshire
The first of two adopted children, John Drew was born November 5, 1934 in Los Angeles to Lucille and Dr. Drew Chipman. A physician with a thriving practice on Wilshire Blvd., Drew was held in high esteem by both his colleagues and patients. His wife’s background was theater arts. Drew and Lucille, both originally from Utah and devout Mormons, resided in the same house on Gramercy Place until the end of their lives.
Their son, known as “Big John”—both as a child (shown above at center) and through most of his adult years—was always considered the big kid on the block. He excelled at football, but was also adept at other sports, including baseball and tennis. And since Dr. Chipman was a member at Wilshire Country Club, his son developed an instinct and passion for golf that never ceased.
John met his one true love, Marylee Caster—a stunning, slender brunette—at Los Angeles High School and never looked back. Both were members of popular clubs, and Marylee wore John’s letterman jacket as if it were haute couture.
John’s best friend, Mike “Mouse” Berry dated Marylee’s best friend, Kathy Russell, and his other best buddy, Ernie Laubacher dated Martha Henderson. They triple-dated at dances, movies, concerts, and the Hollywood Bowl. Stopping for fries and cokes at Scrivener’s Drive-In was a must, as were the legendary swimming parties at Marylee’s home.
The wedding was huge
Marylee and John wed on Feb. 1, 1957, just one month after Marylee’s 19th birthday. The wedding at the Wilshire Methodist Church was huge, with five bridesmaids and six groomsmen, most comprised of the couple’s best friends from high school. A lavish reception followed at the Wilshire Country Club. The black and white photos from the event are classic, reminiscent of a bygone era.
Despite relative peacetime during the mid to late ‘50’s, draft notices to serve in the Reserve Forces were still common. What was uncommon, for John at any rate, was the timing; he received his notice to perform six months of training in the US Army the morning he was to be married. Following a honeymoon to the coastline of Northern California, he went on to complete training at Fort Ord under the Reserve Forces Act of 1955. Although John would have proudly served his country, he was never called up to active duty.
In 1959, the Chipmans purchased a home, with a pool of course, on Rose Street in Burbank. Christmastime was a huge deal with big turkey dinners, scads of gifts, and Martinelli’s Sparkling Apple Cider served in crystal goblets. John Caster and Eric Matthews, Marylee’s brothers, treasure many fond memories of spending Christmas day at the Chipman’s and seeing Marylee’s perfectly decorated tree.
Outdoors and cars
“Big John” loved to work outdoors. He also treasured cars, both driving and repairing them. So, it made perfect sense that he would drive for a living. Early on, he was a commercial driver for the Herald Examiner. He later went on to deliver the Daily Racing Form for over 30 years. Despite working for a paper that focused on gambling, John never gambled and had no interest whatsoever in betting on the ponies. Marylee worked as an office assistant until they decided to start a family.
John Caster recalls his brother-in-law’s “artistic” side, which was of the “hands-on type and resulted in beautiful creations,” he said. “A clock made from an old wood tennis racket; beautiful brick work in the front and back of the house that he and Marylee lived in for sixty-one years, and, of course, the incredible hatch cover coffee table (which, by the way, I still covet to this day).”
Over the moon
Big John (shown at left) was over the moon about the births of his and Marylee’s two sons, John Wesley in October of 1964, and Matthew in August of 1967. There were family summer vacations, including the rental of a beach house on Balboa Island, ocean rentals at Leucadia near San Diego, and road trips all over northern California.
Playing tennis with his buddies at Olive Park in Burbank was a must for John. Although he often tested Marylee’s patience over the amount of time he spent at The Courts, as she often caustically referred to Olive Park, he always found time to teach his own kids to play tennis, baseball, and football. His sons also gained an abiding passion for college and professional sports from their dad.
Where John kept his boys entertained with sports, Marylee was the tough taskmaster, monitoring their homework, grades and seeing to it they did their chores. Both John and Marylee provided their kids with every opportunity to succeed, however, and John and Matt went on to receive business degrees from the University of Southern California. (Matt, John and John Wesley shown left)
Once their kids were on their own, John and Marylee enjoyed more extensive vacations worldwide. They often vacationed on Windstar Cruises with lifelong friend Pat Lawrence; over the years they visited Tahiti, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey, many Mediterranean port cities, most of the Hawaiian Islands, the Virgin Islands, and more. They traveled by Steamboat up the Mississippi, and by train throughout Canada. (In Hawaii at right.)
“I hear your laugh”
The Chipmans gloried in their three granddaughters, Lexi, Ashley, and Tiffany. Following the end of Matt’s first marriage, they made it a point to spend a lot of time with Lexi, Matt’s oldest daughter. One gets a taste of who John was in Lexi’s tribute to her grandfather:
I hear your laugh that to me was better than any of Santa Claus’s Ho, Ho, Hos
I taste wintergreen mints from a half empty pack always left on fifth step of the stairs
I feel your hands pulling me in as I breathed out “Hi Grandpa”
I hear your “Hello sweetheart” return like it was recorded on an answering machine inside my brain
John’s humor, his wry sarcasm, his indelible laughter cannot be overestimated in terms of the effect they had on people.
Matt captures his father perfectly in a story about the two of them seeing “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”, when Matt was about eight or nine. In the film, Peter Sellers, as the inept Inspector Jacques Clouseau, has his manservant, Kato, attack him from out of nowhere to keep Clouseau alert and skilled in the martial arts. In an opening scene, Kato is hiding atop Clouseau’s canopy bed and slowly slices through the fabric so as to startle the detective into fighting.
“My dad absolutely blew up,” said Matt, who vividly recalls the decades old incident. “He loved it, and that unique laugh of his got everyone around him to enjoy the movie that much more.”
Matt learned as a child that people gravitated to his father because they knew he was genuinely having fun. “He knew how to find humor in things,” he said, “and he sure knew how to laugh.” It taught Matt to never take people or life too seriously.
In 2001, Matt married Amy Herweg, the woman he calls his “true love.” In 2021, they will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary. Matt and Amy’s daughters, Ashley and Tiffany, have equally wonderful memories of their grandpa, and appreciated time with him on vacations, at family events, and when he attended their school functions and performances.
Many people go through life without ever really getting to know their fathers, Matt said. “I was not one of those people.”
But in earlier years, when Lexi lived in San Diego with her mom, Matt would make the trek to pick her up from school every other Friday. “Where I originally saw it a laborious six-hour round trip drive,” Matt said, “I eventually was able to turn it into an opportunity.”
Chance to talk for hours
He did so by inviting his dad to play golf at various courses near San Diego. “I would pick him up at roughly 5:00 am, and we would drive down south, play the course, and then pick up Lexi from school for the drive back,” Matt said. “This allowed us the chance to talk for hours and hours, enjoy the game of golf together, and connect more with Lexi.”
Everyone who knew John, whether family or friends, adored being in his company.
But Lexi Chipman gets the last words:
How you filled that word
You filled that word before I even existed
You filled that word when you married your childhood sweetheart
You filled that word with the strength of your fatherhood
You filled that word with every grumble at every task you didn’t want to do, but always did anyways
You filled that word with every joke you ever made (which was a lot of them)
With the way you defined the phrase gentle giant
With how you would sweep in with lightness and laughter when everyone else was too serious
With how you taught me that most things are not that serious
Preceded in death by his wife Marylee, as well as their son, John Wesley, who unexpectedly lost a battle with depression and took his own life in 2019, John Drew Chipman is survived by his son Matthew and wife Amy Chipman, granddaughters Lexi, Ashley, and Tiffany Chipman, and John’s sister Jo Ellen Chipman.
PowerPoint link below: