John Thornton Hougom of 6500 Mary Hall Rd., Hurdle Mills, North Carolina died on Wednesday, May 11, 2022 at the VA hospital in Durham, North Carolina. He was 91 years old. Born in Imlay City, Michigan to parents Edgar Melford and Dorothy Cordell Hougom on April 12, 1931, John was the youngest of five children. As a young boy, he developed a love of all things mechanical and would often take things apart and put them back together again just to see how they worked. He once even painted a family clock orange.
After receiving his General Education Diploma from Imlay City High School, John joined the US Navy in 1949 where he put his mechanical talents to patriotic use during the Korean conflict aboard the USS Askari (ARL-30). He was honorably discharged in 1953 and returned to Michigan where he found employment with General Motors in their plant in Flint, MI. A few years later, he left GM to become a long-haul truck driver. While visiting a friend in Athens, Alabama, he met and married Rachel Lerline Hastings. Their first child was born just under a year later, and John gave up trucking in order to be more present with his growing family. The family moved to California where he took work as an auto mechanic. While in California, he fell ill and was diagnosed with tuberculosis. John and Rachel moved back to Alabama to be close to Rachel’s family while John spent the next 13 months between the VA hospital in Nashville, Tennessee and the tuberculosis sanatorium in Decatur, Alabama. John fully recovered after undergoing a dangerous experimental surgery during which one of his lungs was partially removed. The damage to his lungs left him unable to continue working as a mechanic so he went to trade school and switched careers. His work led the family to make several moves in the next few years, including time spent in Johnson City, Tennessee, Durham, North Carolina, before ultimately settled in Hillsborough, North Carolina in 1967. John worked for Office Machines Systems, Inc. of Graham NC for more than 40 years, officially retiring in the early 2000’s.
John is best remembered for his love of camping. He always had a camper, and often a boat as well. His most popular and beloved destination was Elkmont Campground in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, campsite J8 to be specific. That tradition is continued by his children as John inspired a love of the Smokies, adventure, and travel in each of them. He also shared with his family his love of stock car racing as they attended races regularly at Orange County Speedway in North Carolina and South Boston Speedway in Virginia. Briefly in his younger days, John even drove a race car. Sundays were always an event in the Hougom household as they enjoyed John’s beloved NASCAR and Rachel’s passion for football on television. Friendly rivalries developed, sometimes colorful language ensued, and traditions were born.
In 2015, Rachel was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. From that date until she had to be moved into a memory care facility in late 2020, John was her main caregiver. Shortly after Rachel’s move, his best friend, Rusty, a rat terrier that John had adopted from a local animal rescue eleven years earlier, died. These events deeply saddened him, and he was comforted during this time by his children. John and Rachel celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary this past January 29th. Rachel was called home to be with the Lord on March 4. John has now joined her two months later, though not before professing to his children that despite his current sadness, that no man had lived a richer, fuller life than he.
John is survived by his children, Christie (Kenneth) Reeves, Sonja (Wesley) Tilley, John R. Hougom and Larry Hougom, as well as numerous grandchildren, great grandchildren, nephews, and nieces. He is predeceased by his daughter, Holly Jones; his parents, Edgar and Dorothy Hougom; his brother, Edgar Hougom, and his sisters, Miriam Schonfield, Pat Ekberg, and Joyce Tong.
A memorial service will be held at St. Matthews Episcopal Church located at 210 St. Mary’s Rd. in Hillsborough, NC, on Saturday, May 21st at 11:00am. The family will receive visitors following the service at St. Matthews Parish House. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in John’s memory to Piedmont Veterinary Clinic’s ZipZap fund. Donations can be mailed to Piedmont at 210 Millstone Drive, Hillsborough, NC. Checks should be made out to Piedmont Vet Clinic with “ZipZap fund” in the memo line.
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