TXAPA Pioneer John Deatherage
TXAPA Pioneer John Deatherage (second from left) passed away on May 16, 2020 at the age of 95.
TXAPA Pioneer John Deatherage (bottom row, second) passed away on May 16, 2020 at the age of 95. John was featured as a TXAPA Pioneer in the 2012 book 50 Years of Quality by Gary Corley. That chapter is published here in honor of John and his many contributions to the Texas Asphalt Pavement Association.
A commonly held notion is that people who decide their vocation early in life are much more likely to excel in their endeavors. They tend to be much more focused on their career and therefore can train for their life's work. Such was the case with John Deatherage. John knew what he wanted to do before he graduated from Waxahachie High School. He wanted to be in the asphalt industry. John had a neighbor who worked for the highway department in Ellis County, and after his graduation from high school in 1942, John joined the department to begin making cold lay asphalt. It was his first exposure to what asphalt was all about.
There was another event in John's life in 1942, one that was a testimony to his natural curiosity and tenacity: He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. Scouting remained an important part of John's life, serving as a scoutmaster as well as mentoring young men in their Eagle Scout programs.
However, the pursuit of John's dreams was temporarily interrupted when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps during World War II. Attached to the First Marine Division, he saw action at Peleliu, made the amphibious landing at Okinawa, and was a part of the Allies' occupation forces in China. En route to the theater of war, while in Australia, the ever-curious John took note that they were paving their roads using a foamed bitumen product. After the war, he was honorably discharged in 1946 and returned to Texas. Like hundreds of thousands of returning military, John enrolled in college using the GI Bill. He selected the engineering school at SMU in Dallas as they had a unique program that allowed eight weeks of classroom work alternating with eight weeks of fieldwork, testing hot mix for the highway department. He graduated in August 1949 but decided that he wanted more education.
John enrolled in Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, specifically because they offered a master's degree in civil engineering specialized in asphalt technology. He spoke highly of a Hungarian professor, Csyni, who was in charge of the program. The professor brought a global perspective of asphalt production and paving to the program, including foamed bitumen that John had seen in Australia as a young marine. They had a diverse class including students from Hawaii and China. John wrote his thesis on local materials in Western Iowa and completed his master's degree in December 1950.
It was at Iowa State in 1949 that John met a very special young lady named Beth Scully. Beth was a recent UCLA graduate who had returned to her native Iowa to help her brother with the family business. After two years of sometimes long-distance courtship, Beth and John were married in 1951. In 1950, John returned to Texas with his education completed, ready to begin his career. He was referred to Texas Bitulithic in Dallas by one of his former professors at SMU, interviewed with Joe Lee, and was hired. Today, it'd be rare to see someone with a master's degree sweeping up around an asphalt plant, but that is where John's career with Texas Bitulithic began. He was unfazed by the “college boy” hazing and started an orderly progression of assignments, each with increasing responsibility. One of the first seemed to be one of his favorites: running a patching crew. It was a tangible experience that took him all over Dallas. One of John's first large assignments was a widening job from Bossier City to Minden Louisiana. From there, John's career with Texas Bitulithic bloomed, and he was later placed in charge of the asphalt division, where he oversaw estimating, plants, and maintenance. He also served as vice president in charge of the Fort Worth operations.
John became active in TXAPA in the early 1960s, and his dedication and service to this organization will be hard to replicate. Anytime there was a crisis during the mid-1960s through the late 1970s, John seemed to be close by. His leadership and sound judgments were well respected both inside the association and among industry partners. For example, John was instrumental in working with the Texas Air Quality Control Board in developing standards for our industry in 1967. This was no small feat and required much education of bureaucrats who knew nothing about our business. In the late 1960s, John worked with TxDOT regarding electronic controls on paving machines. Both of these issues had huge financial and quality implications for our membership. One of John's largest challenges, however, was dealing with the financial crisis that struck the association in 1975 while he served as secretary-treasurer. He implemented a one-time surcharge coupled with a new fee schedule that pulled us back from the brink. In addition to serving as secretary-treasurer, John served on the board two other years and was the association's president in 1977. John's energy and accomplishments on behalf of TXAPA will long be remembered and appreciated.
In 1979, John's career path took him to Tulsa, Oklahoma, as president of Standard Industries, which is another APAC company. There, John did what he has always done: He became active in the Oklahoma Asphalt Pavement Association, serving one year as their president. In 1986, John retired from the APAC companies, returned to Texas, and began consulting work for TXAPA in 1987. He did this for seven years before retiring in 1994. However, retirement for John and Beth was like full-time work for most folks. They had been extremely active in community groups in the Malakoff area and in their church. John became very involved in woodworking and produced high-quality art objects from wood–an art form known as woodturning. John was active in a woodturning group and met with them on a regular basis.
Aristotle posited that those individuals who reach their full potential are the happiest. It didn't take much time spent with John Deatherage to recognize that he was a contented mind. He was able to celebrate a life well lived and a race well run. John was a perpetual student, his fertile mind still learning and growing even in his later years. Whatever blessings this life gave to John, he undoubtfully returned the favor.
The Texas Asphalt Pavement Association is thankful for John's impact on the association, the industry, and all the people who were lucky enough to know him. He was someone we looked forward to re-connecting with every year at the Annual Meeting, and he will be greatly missed by a great many.