John Collins Warren was born and grew up in Dedham, Massachusetts, in the same neighborhood as Morris Gray and Art Watson, who both remember him as an artistic, happy kid. He was a direct descendant of many distinguished Boston surgeons, including General Joseph Warren (a friend of Sam and John Adams and one of Boston's first accredited physicians); his namesake, John Collins Warren, who was the first doctor to employ ether as an anesthetic in a surgical procedure; and tracing down to his father, Richard Warren, a distinguished member of the Harvard Medical School faculty - not to mention the "Warren Building" at MGH! Perhaps a heavy burden for a young man who must have known early on that he did not want to be like them.
Watson and Gray remember John as a neighbor and fellow elementary school student (at Dedham Country Day School, up the street from us). Alexander Caskey (born on the same day) remembers him from early days at Camp Monadnock, where he started to show a serious interest in music, taking up the piano.
At Nobles John was a member of the "original 21." He became a boarder in the third class, and roomed with Frank Cobb for two years, in the Long Dorm and at the Frat. John always had a puckish sense of humor, and Caskey claims that he was the one who coined the knickname "Grubby" for Mr. Paine.
Caskey reports that Jeff Jewett became good friends with John and during the summer of 1963 they worked together at a ranch in Colorado, pitching hay and carrying out other "noble ranching activities." He adds that Jeff gave him the nickname "Jelly" (presumably because of Jelly Roll Morton, but - hmmm - maybe for other reasons).
At Nobles, John was a member of the "managerial class" (i.e., he was not an athlete!). Instead, he concentrated on his passion, which was music. He spent hours upstairs in the music room practicing the piano, but did not join in with the more organized musical pursuits available to us at the time. He was his own guy. He was also an active member of the Outing Club.
After Nobles,John took a year off to study music in Vienna. Gray relates that, "when he returned I remember him telling me it was the best year of his life. "At Harvard, he roomed with Matt Schmid, '65, but gradually grew apart from his Nobles classmates.
Topher Cutler recalls rediscovering John at Harvard, where, he says, John was cheery and participated fully in the usual high jinks and camaraderie at the club they shared. "He often played the piano, flawlessly natch, for the assembled mates."
Following graduation from Harvard, John remained committed to playing and composing music. He enrolled in a doctoral program in German at the University of Indiana (Bloomington) and was reportedly happy there; however a series of mental breakdowns (possibly as a result of a bipolar disorder) and subsequent further deterioration of his mental health over the years sharply diminished the frame of his life. Nevertheless, he was never forced to fully let go of his life's passion. Following his death in February, 2011, at a memorial service, recordings were played of some of his lovely recent compositions.
- Art Watson