John S. Letcher Jr.


John S. Letcher Jr., 76, of Southwest Harbor and Orono, died May 7, 2018, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. John was born in San Diego, Calif., to John S. Letcher Sr. and Elizabeth (Marston) Letcher, on Dec. 9, 1941, during the first blackout of World War II. He showed an early aptitude for math and science, winning the 1959 Westinghouse Science Talent Search with his design of a linear particle accelerator. John used the prize scholarship to attend the California Institute of Technology, where he received a BS in physics in 1962, an MS in aeronautics in 1964 and a Ph.D. in aerodynamics in 1966.

Raised in Lexington, Va., John first came to Maine in 1961 as a counselor at Flying Moose Lodge in East Orland. In 1969, he returned to Maine to live year-round in Southwest Harbor. The last years of life were spent at Winterberry Heights, in Bangor, where he had many friends among the residents and staff.

John is remembered for his many contributions to the local and international sailing community. An avid lifelong sailor, he completed six trans-Pacific voyages. Two of these were single-handed in a 20-foot boat, for which he was inducted into the Cruising Club of America, and one was with his first wife and young children. John was the founder and president of AeroHydro Inc., a software engineering company specializing in computer-aided design for marine applications. For nearly 30 years, he chaired the Maine Retired Skippers Race, for which he developed a handicapping system based on a velocity prediction program of his design, now widely used in ocean racing.

John was involved in several America’s Cup campaigns, serving as the senior scientist on the 1987 America’s Cup Stars & Stripes design team and consulting for the Italian racing syndicate Il Moro di Venezia, Oracle Team USA, and on Team New Zealand’s Black Magic. His contributions to the Stars & Stripes design team earned him a life membership in the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers. He authored two books on self-steering and celestial navigation for small sailing yachts, as well as numerous technical articles on the application of aerodynamics, hydrodynamics, and mathematics to yacht design.

John was an exceptionally kind, courteous, and intelligent man, and a loving husband and father. His family cherishes his memory as a man of broad talents, who could build a boat, solve complex differential equations, play bluegrass banjo, and bake a cherry pie, all with equal skill and enthusiasm. Though his body and mind were ravaged by Parkinson’s disease, he retained his innate sweetness and good humor to the last.

John is survived by his wife, Irja Frank, his daughters Lucy, Susan and Alice Letcher, stepdaughters Stella Frank and Astrid Lassila Smith, grandchildren Anais and Phyllis Kegel, Willow Letcher and Miko Lassila Smith, his sister Betsy Greenlee and brother Pete Letcher, and his first wife and mother of his children, Patty Ryan.

At John’s request, no service will be held. Condolences may be sent to P.O. Box 684, Southwest Harbor, ME 04679. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Know when to pay your respects.