John Oliver Curtis III

Published 3:27 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

John Oliver Curtis III died peacefully in Clermont, Fla. Thursday, March 21, at the age of 76, after a 21-year fight with cancer.

John was born February 24, 1948, in Saco, Maine to the late John Oliver Curtis Jr. and Patricia Irene Lessard Lachance.

He graduated from Kennebunk High School Class of 1966 with high honors and held the seats of student body and senior class president.

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A self-made man, John put himself through Northeastern University’s co-op program and worked in Seattle and Boston.

In 1971, he earned a Bachelor of Science degree with high honors in mechanical engineering.

While at Northeastern, John was a member of Pi Tau Sigma, an international honor society for mechanical engineers, and Tau Beta Pi, the oldest and most respected engineering honor society in the world.

In 1974, John was inducted into the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi, one of the most prestigious honor societies in the country and obtained a Master of Engineering Mechanics from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. In 1992, John earned a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in physics from Dartmouth College.

After moving to Vicksburg in 1974, John continued his lifelong pursuit of learning and science.

He was employed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers at Waterways Experiment Station, where he spent more than 30 years as a professional engineer, acting in several capacities as a physicist and environmental scientist. As a civilian with top-secret clearance status, he was able to support special operations within the U.S. Army and NATO.

Dr. Curtis authored and co-authored many technical reports and publications. He retired from the Corps after 32 years of dedicated service and, in 2006, he received the Department of Army’s Super Civilian Service Award. He then pursued the other professional love of his life – teaching. He thrived for ten years as a physics professor at Mississippi College, retiring again in 2016.

John met his true love, his wife Leigh, in Vicksburg. John and Leigh had a deep and abiding connection that filled their days with laughter, affection, joy, music and abundant love.

John and Leigh both recently wrote a collection of stories from their lives via StoryWorth.

John wrote, “In the winter of 1981, I found my true soulmate at last and my life has been nothing but joy ever since. I treasure my life partner’s pure heart and her innate joyfulness.” And, after many other stories,”I hope that I’ve left you with an impression of what a remarkable human being she is. She saved me from a life of mediocrity and for this, I will be forever grateful. She is the love of my life.”

It is impossible to put into words how much John was adored by his wife, Leigh. She marveled at his extreme intelligence, his great humility, his vast talent, his uniform selflessness, his incredible tenacity and his joy in simple pleasures. His positive attitude was like no other.

Thoughtfulness and kindness were woven throughout his every word and action.

John and Leigh shared so many things: family devotion, love of the arts especially music, curiosity, love of learning and exploration and all of nature. He was the very best part of Leigh’s life.

Leigh and John took great joy in raising their three remarkable children, David, Lauren and Jensen. No better father can be found. John felt pure delight in all of their endeavors at every stage.

John’s children remember their dad as the best man they have ever known.

Together, they reflected: “Dad taught us by his actions and he was a powerful teacher. He was unequivocally kind, brilliant, motivating, humble and funny. Dad modeled patience and a work ethic. He possessed an inner strength that was quiet and sure. Dad had not an ounce of ‘quit’ in him and he showed us how hard work and a positive attitude ‘make good things happen.’ He embodied these ideas by the way he lived. Our Dad was easy company and calm, which made it so natural to be open and share with him. Those he met automatically loved him. It was impossible to spend any time with him without feeling an immense respect (and learning something new). He was imaginative and curious and encouraged those characteristics in his kids and grandkids. He was a true gentleman. In all our years with Dad, we have never met another human being who even came close to the person he was. His impact on us will live on and through us in how we treat others and will hopefully be a direct reflection of his love for us. We utterly revered our Dad.”

Dr. Curtis was passionate about discovery. A lifelong learner and natural teacher, his daily activities included reading, researching and solving puzzles.

John was rarely seen without a clipboard with pages of sudokus, anagrams and cartoons and he always had a book by his side.

John was fascinated with space and in addition to teaching physics, electricity and magnetism, fluid mechanics and a variety of mathematics courses, he also taught astronomy.

He tutored many young people, never charging, but out of the goodness of his heart. He loved to share in the discovery of knowledge.

John began singing in barber shop quartets during his senior year of high school and continued in Vicksburg in the melodrama “Gold in the Hills.”

John’s passion for theater led him to be an active member in the Vicksburg Theater Guild, starring in and directing many plays and musicals.

John’s great fervor for music also led him to take piano lessons. He composed several pieces of music, including love songs for his wife Leigh.

John loved sports and was an exceptional athlete. He could play anything with a ball, including football, baseball, basketball, golf and soccer.

He was a highly respected state licensed soccer referee.

John was a powerful runner and a member of the Mississippi Track Club and ran in many 10k races, as well as half marathons and even one complete marathon.

He coached many sports teams for the community and for his children. And even though John was a New Englander, he was a diehard Mississippi State fan.

John was an active member of the Presbyterian Church, singing in the choir and serving as an Elder at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Jackson.

A dedicated member of the community, John often volunteered as a judge for science fairs and Mathcounts competitions.

John also served nationally on a Lay Review Committee with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

An irreplaceable void will be left with the loss of this amazing man that was loved by all who knew him. He was a truly extraordinary person.

John is survived by his wife, Ceila Leigh Wilson Curtis; his children, David Phillip Curtis, Patricia Lauren Ruby (Dan), and Jensen McLeese Curtis; his grandchildren, Addison Leigh Curtis, Oliver Allen Ruby, and Elora Leigh Ruby; and by his brother, Steven Allen Curtis; and sister, Kathy Jean Boucher (Gary).

Private services for the family will be held in Maine and in the Redwoods of California.

In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation in John’s name to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation at or the American Cancer Society at

John’s family would like to thank the many wonderful and kind professionals at the Orlando Health South Lake Hospital and at Cremation Choices in Minneola, Florida.

To share a message of sympathy with his family, visit