John Louis Bomben

In September Bainbridge Island lost John Bomben, a kind and brilliant man. He was born in a tiny Northern California town to Italian parents who named him Giovani Luigi Pietro Bomben after hisfather and two uncles.His first bed was a dresser drawer, and his first school had two rooms for eight grades. Because he spoke only Italian, he kept running away from school, so his mother paid a little boy next door to watch him and keep him from escaping.

Giovani quickly learned English and became John. With an unquenchable curiosity, he loved to learn. Early on, his teacher told his parents, “Johnny is college material.” No truer words!

He attended Stanford University on scholarships and worked in a dining hall. During his freshman year, his father died, and John took on financially supporting his mother. Despite the responsibility, he graduated from Stanford first in his engineering class, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and Tau Beta Pi—and summa cum laude.

Though he was offered a rare University Fellowship for a Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley, he dropped out after meeting his advisor because John couldn’t see spending four years researching with him how saltwater flowed across a steel plate. After a year at Allied Chemical Corporation, he went back to Berkeley for an M.S. in chemical engineering, then on to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Though many of his classmates went to work on weapons at Sandia, John said he’d rather feed people than kill them.

Eventually, he returned to Berkeley for a Ph.D. and to Stanford for a job at the Stanford Research Institute, now known as SRI International. After serving as director of the biotechnology program, he changed to consulting on a vast array of subjects for companies and governments all over the world. Twenty-five years later, he left behind that hectic life and moved with his wife to Bainbridge Island, where for the first year he sat in his wingback chair and plowed through a complete set of Charles Dickens’s novels.

Interested in almost anything, John read constantly all his life—letters of Beethoven, Sandburg’s six-volume biography of Lincoln, almost every word that Winston Churchill wrote. In a discussion of Voltaire, he once astonished his wife by remembering the name of Dr. Pangloss after having read Candide forty years before. His friends pointed out that they could never tell in what direction his steel-trap brain would take their conversations.

John loved animals, the natural world, and anything to do with water. An avid swimmer, he raced Trio, his sailboat, in the San Francisco Bay for many years. As a Seattle Aquarium volunteer, he delighted in feeding the octopus. And he was devoted to the six German shepherds he rescued in his lifetime. One of his happiest moments was when Noble, the unruliest, was finally made a Good Canine Citizen after John’s three long, determined years of obedience classes with him.

John was a gentleman, wise, modest, and proud of his Catholic faith and Italian roots. But as he wrote in his will, he was most proud of his wife, Kristin von Kreisler, “whose love has been an enormous gift,” he said. She is most proud of him and their fifty-one year marriage, and she will miss him always. She’d like to thank his nephew Jim Matheron (Lonnie) and the many other relatives, neighbors, and friends who have shown her great kindness these last months.