John Edward Brewster, known to his family as “Big John” passed away on February 15, 2018 at JRMC Hospital in Pine Bluff, AR. He was born in El Dorado, Arkansas, the eldest son of Winfred Brewster and Ivy Goodwin Brewster. During his senior year in high school (in Hot Springs), the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and our nation went to war. Immediately upon graduation in 1941, John joined what was then the Army – Air Force. After attending flying school and various other training courses in three states, John was crewed up in Lincoln, Nebraska. His crew was assigned to the 8th Air Force in England. Prior to deployment, however, he was re-assigned to Langley Field in Newport News, Virginia for OSS training (Office of Strategic Services, predecessor to the CIA). Upon completion, John was issued orders to proceed to Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York where he joined a different crew to man a new B-24 heavy bomber. They received orders to fly to Karachi, India and report to the Far Eastern Command HQ where they would serve in the China-Burma-India Theater under the command of Lord Mountbatten.
Serving in the 108th Heavy Bombardment Group, John and his crew flew combat missions to occupied Burma, China, and Thailand. In addition to combat bombing, John flew several resupply missions to China “over the hump” for the Chinese army. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross, various medals, and three major battle citations. Following an honorable discharge, John graduated from Arkansas A&M in Monticello. Later, John graduated from Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
While in college in Monticello after the war, John met and married Elizabeth (Betty) Ferguson of Star City. She would become the home demonstration agent (now called “home economists”) in El Dorado. They began a life blessed by family joy and travel to exotic places. John joined Standard Oil of Indiana (later Amoco) where he rose through the ranks to become Special Assistant to the Chairman (Frank Pryor). John had fond memories of a long assignment with Betty to Europe in 1957. His office was located at Conduit and Bond Street in the West End section of London. John was tasked by Mr. Pryor to make preliminary arrangements for international expansion, and to advise the corporation on strategic locations for offices, terminals, refineries and other facilities in Europe. While at Standard Oil, his business development skills were acknowledged and he became a recognized expert in supply and distribution of refined products.
After more than a decade with Standard Oil, John was offered a senior position with Commonwealth Oil Refining Company (“Corco”), headquartered in New York City. Corco operated what was at the time, the largest independent oil refinery and petrochemical complex in the world. It was located in Ponce, Puerto Rico. John, Betty, and their two sons (John Jr. and Bruce) established a residence in Greenwich, Connecticut where they lived for more than twelve years. During that time, Andrew, a third son was born. In the early 1980s, John accepted an opportunity to be a principal of privately-held Guam Oil Refining Company (“Gorco”) in Dallas, Texas. That company operated a specialized oil refinery on the island of Guam, which supplied the U.S. military with refined products for the conflicts in Southeast Asia. After the United States withdrew from Viet Nam, John was instrumental in selling the Guam refinery to an East Coast firm. He stayed on with that group as President on an interim basis, maintaining offices at Rockefeller Center. The facilities in Guam were later used by Shell Oil as a terminal facility.
John was always committed to the communities where he did business. While at Corco he funded a chair in Marine Biology at the University of Puerto Rico. While working in Manhattan, John and Betty sent their three sons to Brunswick School, a boy’s preparatory school in Greenwich. He served on its Board of Governors and was instrumental in establishing the annual fund drive. In Guam, he purchased a seaside property and built a community park that was enjoyed by families from the day it opened. Because of its wonderful Pacific views, that park became especially popular with Japanese couples who married in Guam. He also served as a director of several companies and associations including The American Management Association headquartered in New York City.
John and Betty enjoyed world travel. They were early passengers on the Concorde supersonic aircraft. Their many trips together included Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa and the Orient. Sadly, Betty developed symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in the mid-1980s. John and Betty moved home to Arkansas, where she could be close to family and be in a caring and familiar place. They initially bought and restored a home in New Edinburg, Betty’s birthplace. It was formerly owned by her old maid aunts.
When Betty’s condition worsened, John purchased the Leon Moore home in Rison. After too short a time at home, Betty had to be moved to Trinity Village. She died in 2001, while a resident of Rison Nursing Home. Betty was survived by her mother, Alma Ferguson, who had many friends in Rison, Star City, and across south Arkansas. John cared lovingly for Alma, who died at the age of 99 in 2008. Our father’s devotion to family was one of many character traits that made him a special man.
John E. Brewster was predeceased by his parents, Winfred and Ivy, his sister Murriel, as well as his wife, Betty. He is survived by his sons, John E. Brewster, Jr. (Elaine) of Houston, Texas, Bruce F. Brewster (Johnelle) of Mobile, Alabama, and Andrew W. Brewster of Rison. He is also survived by grandsons John E. Brewster III, Samuel Bates Brewster, William Secar Brewster, and great grand-children Tyson Cole Brewster, Winston Edward Brewster and Katherine Bates Brewster.
The family would like to expresses its profound gratitude to Betty Lee Julian and Dena Stephenson, both of Rison, who showed their love for “Big John” in exemplary acts of care and kindness to the end. We also recognize that Rison has been a special community in our lives. It is truly a small town with a big heart.
The family will be present at a brief visitation from 6-7 p.m. on Monday, February 19th at Buie Funeral Home. A celebration of John’s life will be held at Rison Methodist Church on Tuesday, February 20th beginning at 10 a.m. followed by a short reception afterwards. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be directed to Rison United Methodist Church, Educational Fund, 800 S. Main, Rison, AR 71665, to Arkansas Hospice Inc., 14 Parkstone Circle, North Little Rock, AR 72116, or the charity of your choice. Funeral arrangements are by Buie Funeral Home of Rison. You may sign the online guestbook at www.buiefuneralhome.com.