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In Memoriam: John Duncan (1949-2015)

November 18, 2015

For the third time in a month we mourn the death of a dear friend and colleague. Our former executive director John Duncan died at home in Wilsonville, Oregon, on November 13. He was surrounded by his wife Susie Stevens, his two sons, Ricky and Michael, and his brother Rick Duncan. John was 66 when he died. His death came suddenly, just one month after he was diagnosed with inoperable and untreatable cancer.

Death with Dignity advocate John Duncan

John Duncan in an archival photograph from the 1990s.

John had a long history with the Death with Dignity movement. He was an employee of the Hemlock Society during the 1994 campaign to pass the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, and he used his calming demeanor to bridge our predecessor organization, Oregon Right to Die, and the Hemlock Society at a crucial time. He later joined Death with Dignity National Center as an interim executive, hiring and training our current director, Peg Sandeen.

Most recently, John provided consultation about messaging and communication strategies for our organization as we designed our new website.

He was an avid cyclist, and he was heavily involved in Portland’s theater scene. He founded theater companies, directed plays, taught theater classes at Portland State University and Portland Community College, and led an improv company.

John was proud to be the first person in Oregon to own the all-electric Nissan Leaf, and he recorded a video about the Leaf for Nissan. As you can see from the video, John’s sense of humor, direct communication style, and laid back demeanor won friends and bridged conflicts everywhere he went.

Our Board members remember John fondly. Eli Stutsman, who worked with John on Oregon campaigns in the 1990s, said, “John was, not surprisingly, a role model as he died, with so much grace, with so little notice. He was his old self, working hard to make everyone else feel well.”

“John was such a class act,” said Carol Pratt. “I am honored to have had the opportunity to overlap with him on the board. We all owe him much.”

George Eighmey worked with John during his tenure with Compassion & Choices of Oregon. “He was always a calming and experienced leader,” George said. “He will be missed.”

Our Executive Director Peg Sandeen said, “We have lost three colleagues in the last month: John, Dick Walters, and Peter Rasmussen. While our movement is experiencing tremendous momentum, the loss of these vocal advocates leaves a hole in our hearts.”

Please sign this condolence card to John’s family:



David Duncan
November 24, 2015 at 9:44 am

I am very proud to have called John my uncle. I was extremely lucky to have had you in my life. I will miss you very much. My condolences to aunt Susie and cousins Ricky and Michael.

“I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make. Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love.”
Leo Buscaglia

Goodbye Uncle John

Peter Korchnak
November 30, 2015 at 11:24 am

Thanks for sharing, David. John, has, indeed, enriched all our lives and our movement.

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