John McElwain, former vice president of communications, marketing and external relations at College of the Canyons, died Friday surrounded by his wife and two daughters, following a two-year battle with cancer. He was 70.
McElwain was known for his leadership, professionalism and mentorship, according to his former colleagues. He held various positions in COC’s Public Information Office from 1996-2011.
“John was a professional in every sense of the word,” said Eric Harnish, spokesman for College of the Canyons. “He always made time for people and served as a mentor.”
“He was incredibly proud of his family and often shared about the successes of his daughters,” Harnish said.
Before working for COC, McElwain pursued a career in the U.S. Coast Guard. After 25 years of service, he retired as a commander.
“Not only did he leave his fingerprints and footprints all over the college,” said Dr. Dianne G. Van Hook, College of the Canyons chancellor. “But there is not a day when I am not engaged in a partnership, a new endeavor representing our college or moving forward on something that John McElwain influenced.”
“We were a team,” said Sue Bozman, who hired McElwain. “He was truly a professional.”
He was an integral part of the leadership team at College of the Canyons for years and years, Van Hook said.
“He had a unique ability to bring people together, and his sense of purpose and vision enabled us to do whatever we set out to do,” Van Hook said. “He was astute, patient, tactful and had a keen sense of strategy. A model of honesty and forthrightness, John was there to support the college and its leadership, and I always knew I could count on his sound judgement.”
When he retired from COC, he worked for the college on a part-time basis — focusing on developing the college’s emergency response procedures, Harnish said.
“We have more than 40 administrators that have been trained to serve as emergency managers,” Harnish said. “His work laid the groundwork for establishing that system.”
“He loved having the meaningful mission in his life,” Bozman said.
He used to say, he worked for an organization that saves lives when he worked in the Coast Guard. He believed he continued to save lives while working at COC, according to his colleagues.
“There’s a lot of us on campus who give him credit for shaping our careers,” Harnish said. “And sharing his advice and wisdom that helped us become the professionals that we are.”
“He will remain in my heart for a very, very long time,” Van Hook said.