John W. Cronin Jr, of Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, a retired Navy rear admiral who spent 40 years in active and reserve service, and a longtime insurance company general agent, died Monday, 25 January 2021 from dementia and complications related to COVID-19 at White Horse Village retirement community.
Known by colleagues, friends, and family as a natural leader, John joined the Navy when he was 17, served in active duty during World War II and the Korean War, and spent 35 years in the Naval Reserve. He retired in 1983 as commander of the Naval Reserve Intelligence Program. President Ronald Reagan recognized him for his long service, but John called himself simply a “citizen-sailor.” “He didn’t talk a lot, but when he entered a room, people took notice,” said John’s son. “People respected him. He was always looking out for other people. He never wanted to talk about himself. He didn’t want people to know he was an admiral because he didn’t want them to treat him differently.”
Attracted to the Navy since childhood, John and his mother peeked through the gates at the old Philadelphia Navy Yard when he was just a child. His mother told him that his uncle had served on a destroyer during World War I, and the boy was smitten. “I thought, ‘Gee whiz, I’d like to go into the Navy sometime,’” he told an interviewer in 2009.
John was born in East Orange, N.J., on Christmas Day 1926. He and his family moved to Miami in 1933. A hiker and outdoorsman throughout his life, he became an Eagle Scout and joined the Navy after high school. He served as a gunnery and torpedo officer on a destroyer in the North Atlantic during World War II. (In 2009, John took part in a video interview: Life at Sea: Stories from U.S. Navy Veteran John Cronin which featured John talking about his time in World War II.)
After the war, John met his future wife, Anne Allen, while he was attending Georgia Institute of Technology. A student at Florida State, she was in town visiting a friend when they were introduced at a Georgia Tech football game. They knew they were meant for each other after just a few dates and married in 1948.
John returned to active duty from 1951-53 during the Korean War. Afterward, with his degree in management from Georgia Tech, he joined the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co. as an agent in Miami. In 1962, he became the general agent for the company in Philadelphia, and the couple set up house in Radnor, Pennsylvania. They lived there for 50 years until relocating to Newtown Square eight years ago.
When he retired from his insurance job in 1988, he spent the next 10 years as the George Joseph Chair in Agency Management at the American College of Financial Services in Bryn Mawr. “He loved to sell,” his wife said. “He was so outgoing and liked math and science. So [insurance] was the right combination for him.”
John and his wife loved to travel, and they visited, among other places, Europe, Mexico, and South America. He played tennis and golf. A speed reader, he often zipped through three books at once, mostly history and biographies. He was president of the Philadelphia Kiwanis Club, a longtime trustee of the U.S. Naval Academy Foundation, and chairman of the board of the Philadelphia Armed Services YMCA.
“He never cursed. He never said a bad word about anybody,” his son said. “People have been telling me since the day he died that he was the kindest person they ever met.”
In addition to his wife and son, John is survived by daughter Jeanette, son Robert, a granddaughter, and two great-granddaughters. A private service will be held, and interment will be at Washington Crossing National Cemetery. Donations in his name may be made to Disabled American Veterans, 5000 Wissahickon Ave., Phila., Pa. 19144.