In Memory of




Obituary for John C. Firmin

Firmin, John Child of Somerville, passed away March 23 at the age of 74. He was the beloved partner of Dinah Starr, the loving father of John Firmin of Fayetteville, Arkansas and Moira Halloran Kuhn of Petaluma, California, the loving grandfather of Billie Rose Firmin and Aila Kuhn, and the dear brother of Rob Firmin of Kensington, California and Carolyn Firmin of San Francisco, California.

The son of John Crites Firmin and Margaret Child Firmin, John grew up in Findlay, Ohio. At Findlay Senior High School he was on the swim team and was president of the Teen Center. John attended Lawrence College where he met and married Nancy Pattullo. The couple had a son, John. They transferred from Lawrence to the University of Wisconsin, from which John graduated with a BA in philosophy and political science. After a year at the University of Wisconsin Law School and a summer working for a local attorney as a Law Students Civil Rights Research Council intern, John moved with his family to Washington, D.C. and found a job with the D.C. City Council, where he was instrumental in the drafting and passage of a law limiting the circumstances in which the use of deadly force by police could be justified. Continuing his legal studies at the Georgetown Law Center, John also worked for two federal commissions, on bankruptcy and consumer affairs, and authored an important study on automobile repossessions in D.C.

Upon graduation from Georgetown Law, John worked first for the National Consumer Law Center in Boston and then for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. As head of the consumer division at CLS, he supervised eighty attorneys and engaged in litigation in state and federal courts.

In 1975 he left the law to join the family business, Hancor, a manufacturer of corrugated drainage pipes. He worked there until 1982, becoming the company’s Chief Operating Officer and Acting CEO. His first marriage having ended in divorce, he had married Maribeth Halloran and they had a daughter, Moira. Leaving Hancor, John moved with Maribeth and Moira to San Francisco. In 1985 he founded Applied Dialectrics, Inc. (ADI), serving as its President and CEO until 1992. ADI manufactured critical electronic components, assemblies and advanced printed circuit boards for use in military electronics systems. After ADI closed, John established a business consulting firm. His second marriage ended in divorce.

Moving back to D.C., John worked as a contract attorney and business consultant. In 2006 he came to the Boston area to be with Dinah Starr, whom he had met while they were both students at Georgetown law. As a graduate of the Program for Leadership Development at the Harvard School of Business Administration, John was able to participate in their Capital Access Program, providing consulting services to a nonprofit organization in Newton. He became a certified mediator. His health began to fail in his later years, but he was still able to devote what energy and time he had to the formation of Ecotonics, a company organized to promote a method of growing algae which could make it commercially viable to use algal oil as a source of diesel fuel.

John believed in the importance of public service. Most of his legal career was focused in the areas of civil rights, consumer law and disability law. As a businessman, he saw himself as providing an important service to the community by giving people good jobs, and he was an affirmative action employer. As an active member of a Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland, he became a regular volunteer cooking and serving meals to homeless people. His work for Ecotonics reflected his desire to contribute to the alleviation of global warming. John was intellectually curious, read widely and could converse easily on a wide variety of subjects. He was passionate about politics. He told great stories. His humor was ineffable, inimitable, ranging from the outrageous to the transcendent. He connected with people wherever he went. He would joke, tell his stories, inquire about their lives, find some shared interest. Sometimes he would find a way that he could help, which he did many times. He would cook meals for people too sick to cook for themselves. He was generous in dispensing legal and business advice, and particularly enjoyed his conversations with his son John about business strategies. He encouraged and supported people in fulfilling their potential. He was a good teacher, explaining complicated subjects in a way that made them easy to understand. John had a vibrant presence, a sense of adventure, and a love of life. When he was in his twenties he took a motorcycle trip alone across the country. He enjoyed traveling and had been to Europe, Bermuda, the Caribbean including Cuba, Mexico, and most states in the U.S. He graduated from the Bondurant race car driving school and was an ardent car enthusiast. He hunted and fished. He was a smart dresser. He loved to cook and entertain. He played chess with his brother Rob and others, and enjoyed movies, music and art. He collected ship models and created tableaux of famous battles. For a while he lived on a boat moored in the harbor of Santa Barbara, California. He built a house in Ohio, the design of which won a prestigious architectural award. He took great solace in the garden he created in his backyard in Somerville, with its flowers and fountains, bird houses, bird baths and bird feeders. It gave him pleasure to sit and watch the birds. He enjoyed keeping fish, and had a great affection for his dog Freedom and the cats in his Somerville household.

John had a large and generous heart. He cared deeply for family, was proud of his children and kept up with friends, both close and at a distance. He was a loving and supportive partner.

He was courageous as he faced one medical challenge after another. And he was deeply grateful to the skillful and compassionate medical professionals at MGH who cared for him in his last years.

A memorial service will be held at the Cambridge Friends Meeting, 5 Longfellow Park, Cambridge, on 7/27 at 2pm.

Contributions may be made in John’s name to the American Civil Liberties Union (, 1-888-567-2258) or to the Natural Resources Defense Council (, 212-727-2700).

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