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Greensburg lawyer tackled life with hands, head, heart

| Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2008

Great men are often characterized by the diversity of their interests. It was said of Winston Churchill, for instance, that he was the most accomplished man of the 20th century because his interests were so varied: statesman, politician, writer, artist.

John W. Pollins III of Greensburg, who died Monday, Aug. 25, 2008, at the age of 68, was a man whose inquisitiveness was so acute that it led him to a multitude of endeavors. A lawyer by profession, Mr. Pollins was a skier and scuba diver, a voracious reader, a blacksmith, a mechanic, a nationally ranked chess player, a piano player, an actor, a teacher, a sculptor, a church deacon, a civic board member and a classical and flamenco guitarist.

He was a tearer-downer and a builder-upper as well: Mr. Pollins constructed the addition to the family farmhouse from the beams he salvaged from a barn.

A daughter, Christina Elsie Shackelford, said her father was "insatiably curious" and "deeply passionate" about a host of things.

Born in Greensburg on Feb. 19, 1940, Mr. Pollins was "hugely" influenced by his father, John W. Pollins Jr., and an uncle, Calvin Pollins, Shackelford said.

According to his daughter, he became a lawyer in part to honor the family name. Both his father and uncle were practicing attorneys.

The range of Mr. Pollins' interests can only be described as eclectic. In music, for example, it ran from Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley to Beethoven, Scott Joplin and the Beatles.

Shackelford said it wasn't unusual for her father to go from donning a tuxedo for a night at the opera to getting greasy dirty while building (with a Ford Pinto engine) a Mercedes-Benz automobile.

Mr. Pollins' other mechanical masterpiece was a reconstructed World War II-era amphibious tracked cargo carrier. To this day, Shackelford said, the vehicle remains part of the family as it sits in woods on the family farm.

Frank Golba, of the Touchstone Center for Crafts near Farmington, said in addition to being a board member, Mr. Pollins was the house wise man.

"John was a wonderful, philosophical person," Golba said. "No matter the subject on the agenda, he could make it interesting."

An "expert" blacksmith, Mr. Pollins, along with his wife Susan Elizabeth Laansma Pollins, a watercolorist, were as important as any two people have been in the development of nationally recognized Touchstone, Golba said.

Among Mr. Pollins' distinctive contributions as a forged steel sculptor was the creation, in response to a call for competitors, of a gate at the Globe Theatre in London. "Primrose" is the gate's theme, Shackelford said. The theme was lifted from Shakespeare.

The fact that the Globe was the venue for a number of Shakespeare's greatest works was hardly lost on Mr. Pollins, who played the role of Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew" and Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet."

Among the few disappointments in Mr. Pollins' life, his daughter said, was that he never played the lead in "King Lear."

Mr. Pollins' other favorite writers included Rudyard Kipling and T.S. Eliot, Shackelford said. His home library contained "thousands" of volumes, including not a few works of science fiction.

Despite his many achievements, Shackelford said her father was "a humble man" who was surprised to learn during the last year of his life from so many people whose lives he influenced.

"He believed there is so much more in life than the mundane," Shackelford said. "He saw the beauty in things."

In addition to his father, Mr. Pollins is preceded in death by his mother, Lydia Jane Ramsey Pollins, and an infant sister, Mary Louise Pollins.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Pollins is survived three children, John W. Pollins IV and wife Heather Humphrey Pollins, Suzanne Louise MacLennan and husband Andrew George, and Christina Elise Shackelford and husband James Todd; and grandchildren, Kayla Anne and Megan Parry MacLennan, Ella-Mae Maude Shackelford and John W. Pollins V. He is also survived by sister Elizabeth Jane O'Leary and her husband Paul Gerard.

Friends will be received from 4 to 7 p.m. today at the Kepple-Graft Funeral Home Inc., 524 N. Main St., Greensburg. Memorial services will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday in the First Presbyterian Church of Greensburg, 300 S. Main St., with the Rev. Martin Ankrum officiating. Family will receive friends after the service at John's childhood home and former office at 319 S. Pennsylvania Ave., Greensburg.

Memorials for Mr. Pollis may be sent to Touchstone Center for Crafts, 1049 Wharton Furnace Road, Farmington, PA 15437 or Excela Health Home Care and Hospice, 134 Industrial Park Road, Suite 1600, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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