Dr. John G. “Jack” Hamilton passed away on August 31, 2016 ending a sixteen-year battle with a rare brain tumor called an ependymoma. He was 72 years old.
Jack was born to Gerald Hamilton and Lois Rondot Hamilton in Fort Wayne on June 29th, 1944. The timing of his birth put him, technically, just ahead of the baby boom, perhaps setting in motion the slightly-ahead-of-his-time pattern that marked Jack’s life. He began cycling and scuba diving in the 1960s, running and windsurfing in the 1970s, snowboarding in the 1980s, and bought Elvis Costello’s My Aim is True on vinyl in 1977.
Jack graduated from Northside High school and attended Indiana University, where he encountered the most beautiful woman he had ever met, “dreamy” Diana Dellinger, and sensibly married her a few months later in 1965. They were driven to their reception by Jack’s uncle Ed Hamilton in a 1914 Model T, a car that Jack purchased in the last decade of his life and lovingly restored.
Jack earned his B.A., D.D.S., and M.S.D. degrees from Indiana University and established an orthodontic practice in Fort Wayne that spanned several decades and created thousands of beautiful smiles. He served as President of the Isaac Knapp Dental Society in 1995—1996 and was a member of many other dental organizations and fraternities. His office and staff were an important part of his life, with Marcia, Lynn, Theresa and others forming the core of an extended family.
Although he often quoted Groucho Marx’s observation that “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member,” Jack did indeed become a member of many professional and social organizations, including the American Dental Association, American Association of Orthodontists, Omicron Kappa Upsilon Dental Fraternaity, Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity, Great Lakes Society of Orthodontists, Issac Knapp District Dental Society, Inland Lakes Snowmobile Club, and the Santaluz Club in San Diego.
Jack was perhaps also a bit ahead of his time in seeking a sustainable work/life balance, carving time out of his orthodontic practice to spend time with his family through sailing, skiing, bicycling, and snowmobiling. He climbed mountains in Telluride, hiked the Appalachian Trail, and could make, build, or repair nearly anything with his hands.
Most of Jack’s hobbies involved “transportation” in some form. He flew airplanes as an instrument-rated pilot, sailed boats, paddled kayaks, skied behind boats, raced bicycles and motorcycles, restored classic cars, carved turns in the snow with skis and snowboards, ran multiple marathons and triathlons, and occasionally donned rollerblades and was pulled sled-dog-style by his beloved Husky around Lake Wawasee.
The diagnosis of a brain tumor and ensuing craniotomy in 2000 changed Jack’s life dramatically. Suffering from bilateral paresis, permanent double-vision, and loss of fine motor control, Jack could no longer practice orthodontics, ride motorcycles, or even go for a run. But over the next ten years he found dozens of things that he could do, including building models, reading hundreds of books, and even snowmobiling. An expert at one-eye-open riding, Jack became the President of the Indian River Snowmobiling Club. In those ten years, with one side of his glasses frosted to correct for double-vision, he witnessed weddings, the birth of grandchildren, and traveled to Europe for the first time. Sadly, his physical limitations kept him from trying certain new things later in life—like cleaning up in the kitchen, doing laundry, or cooking anything besides popcorn.
In 2011 an MRI confirmed the need for a second craniotomy, a procedure that unfortunately left Jack with only a fraction of his previous capabilities. After a year of rehabilitation and therapy, Jacked learned to shuffle about with a walker, and even began cycling, after a fashion, via a three-wheeled recumbent. He recorded some of his thoughts and experiences in his blog Smells Like Brains, My Ependymoma, a title suggested by his grandson Henry’s remark about the distinctive aromas in the neuro ward. Jack tried every treatment available to stem the advance of the tumor, including experimental Proton Therapy at I.U. Bloomington and painful physical therapy. But every year the insidious tumor grew, slowly stealing away his ability to breathe, swallow, and move.
Jack and Diana spent the majority of his last year in their residence in San Diego. By then it was a struggle for Jack to speak or simply to roll over. But his wife, Diana, and his daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, along with a small army of nurses and caretakers, provided 24-hour care and kindness. When the end seemed inevitable, their son Jeremy and family friend Jon Larmore arranged medical transportation back to Indiana, so Jack could spend his last months looking out at beautiful Lake Wawasee. Acquaintances from earlier times visited frequently, sometimes in the guise of professionals, helping move him or checking his breathing, but more often they came simply as friends.
A little more than a year ago, Jack and Diana celebrated their 50th anniversary. Although the front of the lake house resembled a hospital room, it was a lovely party—food, wine, and memories spanning half a century. Jack passed away just a few days after their 51st anniversary.
His regrets, as far as they are known, include his stubborn dogs-over-cats preference (one he disavowed later in life), selling his 1956 Speedster, and the fact that he purchased the only hand-tailored suit he ever owned at the height of the disco era in 1978, rendering it laughably inappropriate by 1982, but suitable for Halloween by 1992.
He was not a religious person. He did not believe in a life beyond this earth, an insight that almost certainly informed his ethos of trying to make the most of this life. His personal philosophy meant that cruelty, smallness, and hypocrisy were particularly painful for him to observe or tolerate. It also meant that his garage was overfull of the sorts of motorcycles, bikes, skis, snowshoes, and other toys that mark a carpe diem existence. As anyone who has experienced a Hamilton “vacation” can attest, the days are not merely seized—they are grabbed, stretched, and squeezed until the last drops of pleasure and activity are wrung from them.
For much of his life he described himself as a “Grasshopper,” the reckless creature from the Aesop’s fable who has fun and adventures in the summer but who faces starvation in the fall because he didn’t plan for the future. Jack’s life—one full of adventures in his 30s, 40s, and 50s—turns the received wisdom of this fable on its head, and offers a new lesson: The Wisdom of the Grasshopper.
Jack Hamilton is survived by his wife, Diana, and his two sons, Christopher and Jeremy. Christopher lives with his wife, Elizabeth, in California. Jeremy and wife Megan live in Indianapolis with their three boys, Spencer, Henry, and Brooks, all of whom ski, sail, and play on Lake Wawasee.
Family, friends, and former patients of Jack Hamilton are invited to attend a Celebration of Life luncheon at the Pine Valley Country Club in Fort Wayne on Saturday, Oct. 15 at 1 p.m.
Preferred memorial may be given to the CERN Foundation for Ependymoma Research, P.O. Box 217, Zionsville, IN 46077 or Center for Hospice Care, 22579 Old US 20, Elkhart, IN 46515.