In Memoriam

John R. Barton, Class of 54

John R. Barton


June 6, 1935 – April 5, 2024

He was born at a very early age in Seattle on June 6th of 1935. By a strange coincidence, both of his parents, John Alexander and Ethel May had the same last name as him.

He died on April 5, 2024 at the age of 88. As he long suspected, it was the broccoli that finally did him in. He was preceded in death by all those who died before him, and is survived by all those who didn’t.

Prior to his 1954 graduation from Cleveland High School (Seattle), he worked as a cracker stacker at Nabisco. He and his pal, Dwight Moberg, joined the U.S. Army for the GI Bill following high school. That was the second-best decision he ever made. In spite of the hard struggles of boot camp, these two actually had a good time going through basic training. From simple pranks such as spreading rumors about belt buckle inspections, to shooting in the sand above the target of another trainee at the rifle range, they made the most of a difficult situation.

He was trained as a surveyor at Fort Belvoir, Va. but worked as a typist and as a construction estimator in the Headquarters Company of the 928th Engineering Aviation Group (SCARWAF) in England. He was based at Collier’s End Camp, about 15 miles north of London, which enabled him to make many ski trips to the continent. Remembering the phrase, “Loose lips sink ships,” his daily objective was to start a new rumor and to see how far it would spread. All in good fun, the rumors were usually about trivial items such as installing a giant Cinerama screen in the dinky dayroom, and putting everyone on a diet of oranges and orange juice until we got into fighting shape. Despite his fun-loving spirit, he was a good soldier and he received an honorable discharge from the Army in 1957 at the rank of SP3.

He started at the University of Washington (UW) in October of 1957 just as Sputnik was shaking up the technical world. He supported himself through school by working as a draftsman and as a surveyor. He joined Boeing in 1960 and initially worked as an engineering aide while continuing at the UW. He graduated with a BS degree in electrical engineering in 1962 from the UW. His strong point was mathematics with a strong interest in spacecraft technology. His first assignment as an engineer was with the spacecraft electrical power systems group, and he stayed in that field for the remainder of his career.

His first technical specialty was in solar arrays, with emphasis on testing and environmental (space) degradation. He joined Space Technology Labs (STL, later to become TRW Systems) in 1964 to manage their Solar Lab. At this position, he conducted studies on solar cell performance at extreme illumination and temperature conditions, and he developed the Barton Equation for predicting solar cell performance. While at STL he started working on spy spacecraft [have to kill ya if I told ya] for the CIA and other snoop organizations. He left TRW and returned to Boeing in 1967 where he continued working on classified spacecraft power systems as well as NASA space programs.

The most significant (unclassified) program of his career was the Mariner 10 Mercury/Venus ’73 mission (also known as MVM’73 or Poorboy), and his background in solar panel design, analysis and tests made him the perfect engineer for the power system. The challenge of this mission was to operate the solar array in the Mercury environment with the sun five times as bright as it is at Earth. As the spacecraft approached Mercury, the solar panels had to be rotated off of the sun to prevent extreme temperature. The solar panel solder would melt if the solar panels were pointed too close to the sun, and the solar panel power output would be too low if pointed too far off of the sun. A maximum off-angle of about 70 degrees was required at Mercury. Assigned to NASA-JPL for flight operations, he led the electrical power team. He developed computer simulations (P-MAP and P-TILT) of the electrical power system for evaluating in-flight performance for the MVM’73 mission. This was the first application of a real-time power system performance prediction program for spacecraft. For his work on the Mercury/Venus mission, he received two NASA Group Achievement Awards. His MVM’ 73 work set the course for the rest of his career.

With his expanded focus on spacecraft power systems, he eventually became the manager for Power Systems Technology at Boeing’s Defense & Space Group, and stayed at this position until his retirement in 1999.

He taught off-hour classes at Boeing for approximately 15 years. The subjects included solar array technology, spacecraft power systems, radioisotope power supplies, linear circuit analyses, and applied mathematics. He also organized a refresher course for electrical engineers wanting to take the state examination to obtain their professional license.

He played racquetball until age 72, and then quit because he could no longer stand being humiliated by the much younger players. He then took up tennis. He was also active in biking; RC airplanes; and the Cleveland High School Alumni Association, serving as treasurer, president and vice president. His major accomplishment in retirement was his work to save the Cleveland High School Memorial Forest. Did you know that Cleveland High School is the only high school in the universe that has a memorial forest dedicated to WW II alumni that lost their lives in the war ??? It was purchased as a field of stumps (151.52 acres) in 1944 for $300 and today it’s worth millions.

The best decision of his life was to marry the girl he met in the 6th grade: Mary Lou Zarkades. The two people he admired most were George Washington for winning our battle for independence, and Abraham Lincoln for ending slavery. He loved his family . . . he loved humor . . . he loved life . . . he loved his country.

As a token to evolutionary studies, the estate of John Barton offers a
prize of $500 to anyone who can conclusively answer the question
beyond any doubt: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Family. He thought he married for life when he wed Lila Shetley in 1962, and life couldn’t be better. So happy in marriage, he had a bigoted view that all divorced people deserved their situation for some reason. In 1982 he found himself divorced and he didn’t even get to vote on it. His kids from this marriage are Xten and Zairen – and they never saw their mother during the last 35+ years of her life. A marriage to Cherie Jones produced two more kids, Quinn and Tahzhanay. This marriage was doomed from the start. Then a good thing happened.

He formed a committee to organize the 40-year reunion for Cleveland High School’s class of 1954. On the committee was a gal he met in the 6th grade –– Mary Lou Zarkades. They went through high school together, thought well of each other, but never dated. After a successful courtship of 15 months, they married on 9 April 1995 –– thus fulfilling a prediction that Mary Lou had made in high school. This was the best decision of his life. They lived happily ever after. His family lineage includes two grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

A funeral service will be held at the Bonney Watson (SeaTac) Funeral Home on April 24, 2024, at 12:30 p.m.

In place of flowers, please donate to the Cleveland High School Alumni Association's Memorial Forest Fund in memory of John.