John Nelson Cannon departed on July 12, 2021, after a long life of dedicated service, hard work, and abundant blessings. The changes he witnessed in his nearly 94 years were astonishing — from outdoor plumbing to online Zoom meetings, and from horse-drawn carts to autonomous automobiles. John loved reading about and experiencing the wonders of technology, science, and the natural world.
He was born in Salt Lake City on 7/27/1927, a tidy series of digits that portended his love of order and numbers. As soon as he learned the word “Why?” he wouldn’t stop asking questions. His taste in literature always tended toward non-fiction; he thought in pictures, and always felt most at home with the quantifiable.
He was the second of eight children born to John Bennion (a contractor, Army Colonel, and Superintendent of Maintenance for ZCMI), and Alice Nelson Cannon (a teacher and homemaker). John was the only boy among the first six children, so he was surrounded by sisters, some of whom he never figured out how to tease. The youngest two to come along were finally brothers. With their father away from home during much of WWII, he became a father figure to them. John learned thrift, as the children were raised amidst the economic hardships of the Depression and war, but the large family's closeness kept difficult times at bay. He was proud to note that he had almost 100 first cousins and, with polygamy in the family line, thousands of second cousins.
At East High, John played quarterback on the football team, ran track, and was the drum major. He graduated at 16, and began studying physics at the University of Utah.
Despite his mom's objection, John joined the Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve, hoping to train as a pilot. He was greatly disappointed as the need for pilots declined. He then switched to the Navy and was preparing to go to the Pacific when WWII ended. He completed boot camp, technical training and acquired experience as a communications specialist. He then served two years in the British mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, spending time in both Lancashire and the Isle of Man, the Cannon ancestral home.
John continued his college education at the U, but changed his major to mechanical engineering. He began courting Margaret Maeser, who lived in SLC on L Street. (John joked that to get Margaret he had to go to L and back.) They married March 22, 1951. He often noted that marrying Margaret was the best decision of his life.
While earning his Bachelor’s, he was also in ROTC at the U. Shortly after finishing, he was called to serve in the Korean War. After that, he used the GI Bill to get a master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering at the U, then worked in Southern California as an aeronautical engineer. An opportunity came to help start the Mechanical Engineering Department at BYU. This led to earning a PhD at Stanford University, again helped by the GI Bill. He wrote his dissertation while also serving as department chair.
John and Margaret bought a lot in Oak Hills in Provo in the late 1950s. John designed a split-level home where the couple raised six children: John (Vonda Brown), Elizabeth, Paul (Linda Busenbark), David, Cathy (Scott Woolley), and Chris (Corenna Critchfield). The family developed deep friendships in the neighborhood. They welcomed friends and relatives into their home for days, months, or years at a time. John loved the outdoors, which prompted many family trips to national and state parks—first in tents, then a tent trailer, and finally a camper.
For over 40 years, John taught engineering and religion classes at BYU. He carried out research in combustion, acoustics, solar energy, and coal furnace explosions. He advised generations of students, including many from countries around the world. On the side, he worked as a consultant for Thiokol and for Dugway Proving Grounds.
Within the LDS Church, he served in many callings. Among them, he was a bishop, a high councilor, and a high priest group leader. John was a lifelong Scouter: working summer jobs at Scout camps, serving 30 years as a Scoutmaster, running Wood Badge courses, earning the Silver Beaver award, and most recently volunteering on a troop committee. Between his students and Scouts, thousands of young men have been positively influenced because of his dedication.
John was devoted to the church, and served several missions after his retirement. He and Margaret served a mission in Oregon. Later, he served multiple service missions. He worked on the heating and cooling system for the SLC Conference Center during its construction. He then served regularly for well over a decade at local family history center libraries, until the pandemic shut them down.
John and Margaret enjoyed travel, visiting many places, including Russia, the Middle East, Europe, Alaska, and Japan. They loved studying good literature and belonged to a book club together that met monthly for almost fifty years. John had a curious mind about many subjects: ancient history, the natural world, medical science, LDS church history, and his ancestors. He shared family stories with pride and a sincere interest to help his descendants learn from the past. Because of forethought and hard work by Margaret, John, and his ancestors, the family has access to several cabins for gathering. Time at the cabins has been a selfless gift for all family members.
Margaret was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1999. To better understand her disease, John began auditing neuroscience classes at BYU. His care and attentiveness to her likely added years to her life until her passing in 2014.
John is survived by four of their six children (Elizabeth Funk, David Cannon, Cathy Woolley, and Chris Cannon), and four siblings (Alice Schmidt, Anne Cannon, Richard Cannon, and Joe Cannon). John is predeceased by his parents, three sisters (Elaine Nichols, Leonora Cannon, and Ruth Siebers); two children (John Cannon and Paul Cannon); and a granddaughter (Abby Kate Cannon).
John considered himself more lucky than smart. He was a dependable, witty man who taught by example responsibility, curiosity, frugality, loyalty, gratitude, and love for God and each other.
To watch his video on genealogy click on the following link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZVe29Adrww
A viewing will be held Friday, July 16th, 6-8 pm at 1960 N. 1500 E. in Provo. A service will be held Saturday, July 17th, at 1 pm in the south chapel, 1600 N. 900 E. in Provo, with a viewing beforehand.
For those unable to attend, the services will be live-streamed at 1 p.m. Saturday, July 17 at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/sundbergolpinfuneralhome
Friday viewing at 1960 N 1500 E, Provo
6-8 PM: public viewing
Saturday funeral at 1600 900 E, Provo (It’s a double chapel; we’ll be in the south side)
11:30-12:30 PM: public viewing
12:45 PM: family prayer
1:00 PM: funeral service
4:00 PM: graveside service at the cemetery at Redwood Memorial Estates, 6500 S Redwood Road, Taylorsville
6:00 PM: catered dinner at LDS Church 3400 S 1100 E, SLC
To send flowers to John's family, please visit our floral store.