In Memoriam: John Ambrose Pendergrass Jr.

​John Ambrose Pendergrass Jr., 92, passed away on Thursday, December 7, 2017. John’s tireless work for industrial hygiene and safety is exemplified through his many leadership positions within the profession. He served as AIHA President (1974–1975) and as a member of the AIHA Board of Directors (1967–1970). He was also a Director for the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (1981–1987) and for the Board of Certified Safety Professionals (1974–1977), and a member of the American Academy of Industrial Hygiene.

John served in the United States Navy during World War II (1943–1946) and the Korean War (1951–1953), and then in the U.S. Naval Reserves, retiring with the rank of Lieutenant. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Alabama in 1948 and his Master in Public Health from the University of Michigan in 1956, where he was one of the first students of Warren Cook, who helped found AIHA and served as the association’s second president.

John’s distinguished career as a public health professional included serving as a biologist, chemist, and industrial hygienist at the Tennessee Valley Authority; as an industrial hygienist for Boeing Corporation; as corporate industrial hygienist for American Cyanamid; and as associate medical director and manager of Hazard Aware Production for 3M Corporation. Following John’s time at 3M, President Ronald Reagan appointed him as assistant secretary of Labor for OSHA, a position he held from 1986 to 1989. After leaving OSHA, John started Pendergrass Associates, a consultancy.

Under John’s leadership as AIHA president, the association accomplished much in promoting the industrial hygiene profession. The AIHA Journal was expanded and rebranded; seven Hygienic Guides—informational bulletins about the toxicity of common industrial materials—were published; and a public relations firm was retained to promote the industrial hygiene profession and the association. AIHA expanded its role in education and training by entering into contracts with OSHA for employer education and industrial hygiene services and cosponsoring courses with NIOSH. As an advocate for expanding the reach of the industrial hygiene profession, John was instrumental in the formation of the InterSociety Forum (an organization that includes representatives from several OHS organizations) and the Occupational Health Programs Accreditation Commission.

A visionary leader and gentleman, John left his mark on all he encountered. “Spending time with Dolly and John was always one of my wife Liz’s favorite memories,” recalled Tom Grumbles, manager of Occupational Health at Sasol North America. “His mere presence at a meeting was the selling force to the group.”

Chuck Adkins, a former OSHA regional administrator, said, “John will certainly be missed. He was a leading safety and health professional and an extremely friendly and consistently congenial person.”

“I have very fond memories of John starting in 1979-1980 when he was working for 3M and I was working for IBM in Minnesota,” added Loren Anderson, former global manager of Industrial Hygiene for PPG. “We were both members of the local AIHA section in Minneapolis. I remember that, at my first local section meeting, John went out of his way to welcome me. He displayed his leadership skills with his very cordial and inclusive style.”

Chris Laszcz-Davis, president of The Environmental Quality Organization LLC, placed John in the context of other important figures in the history of AIHA. “Many of us have known, socialized with, and had to say farewell to some incredible folks who not only moved the occupational hygiene/industrial hygiene/EHS needle significantly, but who were genuinely decent human beings,” Laszcz-Davis said. “John Pendergrass was clearly one of them—a class act!”

John was an inspirational figure both in his professional and personal life. His dedication to and passion for industrial hygiene will be remembered, and his work ethic will continue to influence those practicing the profession.


Resources

AIHA: The American Industrial Hygiene Association: Its History and Personalities, 1939-1990 (1994).

Radney Funeral Home.