John Christopher Courtin (CAS ’70, LAW ’78), a 2014 recipient of the John Carroll Award and former executive director of the Georgetown University Alumni Association, died after a prolonged illness at the age of 65 on June 29.
Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., where he went to Canisius High School, Courtin graduated Georgetown with a degree in psychology. After graduation, he worked in the university’s Office of Admissions and coached the men’s lightweight crew team. While working at the university, Courtin began attending law classes at the Georgetown University Law Center at night, earning his J.D. in 1978. Courtin later served as an adjunct professor at the Law Center.
Courtin met his wife, Sharon (NHS ’74), while at Georgetown, and the two were married in 1974.
After briefly moving back to Buffalo, Courtin returned to Georgetown in 1984 and worked as the executive director of the Alumni Association, a position he held until 1990. Under his guidance, the association constructed the Reed Alumni Residence at the corner of 36th and O streets, across from the Wagner Alumni House, to serve as a meeting place for alumni.
“When John conceived of and led the charge to build the Alumni House at 3601 O St. in Georgetown, it was only partly about the house. It was really about so much more — it was about the community of Georgetown, it was about building a place to celebrate all those former students who had benefitted from this great inquiry into faith and reason,” Paul Stebbins (CAS ’79) said in his eulogy at Courtin’s memorial service.
Stebbins recounted his first meeting with Courtin when Courtin conducted his admissions interview for Georgetown. Stebbins was a 17-year-old high school student at the time, and Courtin was 25. Stebbins described how Courtin managed to immediately put his nerves at ease and even invited him to dinner at the Tombs. Courtin later told him that he had fought for his acceptance into Georgetown; he called him a “non-traditionally credentialed candidate.”
“John had taught me a life-long lesson and I have built an entire global company by looking for and hiring ‘non-traditionally credentialed candidates,’” Stebbins said in the eulogy.
Courtin and his family moved back to Buffalo in 1990, where he worked at a law firm until 1998, leaving to become the executive director of the Martin House Restoration Corporation. Allison Courtin, his older daughter, said that even after leaving Washington, her father maintained his connection with the Hilltop.
“He stayed involved with the crew team, he stayed involved with the admissions office. I remember we were constantly having prospective students over to the house for interviews. He was always talking to people about going to Georgetown,” Allison said.
She described her father as having an active mind, constantly reading books. Although not formally educated in architecture, he loved studying design, which played into his work later in his life.
“He would read anything and everything that crossed his path. He was a very active person. He never liked to sit around. He was always outside, doing something, going for a run, going hiking. He was just kind of a curious person. He always wanted to know more,” Allison said.
Courtin was integral in starting the restoration of the Martin House Complex, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Buffalo, to its original state from 1907; the project is now in its final phase. Additionally, he spearheaded a project to build an unbuilt rowing boathouse, designed by Wright in 1905. The boathouse was finished in 2007, and it is located on the Buffalo waterfront Club, where John was a member.
His passion for Georgetown and architecture was perhaps only surpassed by his devotion to rowing. While an undergraduate, Courtin rowed in Boat 1 during the 1969 Dad Vail championship heavyweight rowing team.
“I think the crew team was so important to him because the team was such a big community,” Allison said. “I think that’s something that my dad looked for in almost all aspects of his life — just finding a really great group of people to surround himself with and to work with.”
Allison, who currently works at Georgetown as a coach for the men’s lightweight crew team, credits her father for her interest in rowing.
“Rowing is this great tradition in my family. My parents rowed, and we watched our brother learn to row, and so it was kind of a rite of passage almost, getting to learn how to row with my dad in the family boat. So that was a really special moment for me,” she said.
Her younger sister Cathryn Courtin (SFS ’13) was a coxswain for the men’s lightweight crew team, as well. The women’s crew team honored the contributions of the Courtin family last year by christening a boat after them.
“You can see it out on the Potomac, called the ‘Courtin.’ So last year, we were all in D.C. for the boat christening, and … I know that meant a lot to him. It was a really special thing to have a boat named after him,” she said.
At the John Carroll Weekend for Alumni held in February earlier this year, Courtin received the John Carroll Award from the Alumni Association for “lifetime achievement and outstanding service to [his] alma mater.”
“He was a loyal son of Georgetown ever since coming to campus as a student in 1966, and it is his extraordinary warmth, integrity and dedication to the ideals and principles which define our tradition that will live on,” Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia wrote on a memorial page for Courtin.
Courtin is survived by his wife Sharon, his son Christopher and his daughters Allison and Cathryn.