Dr. John W. Work IV, son of John W. Work III and Edith Carr McFall passed away from Parkinson’s on May 11, 2020 peacefully at home in Riverdale, New York in the loving arms of his wife, Lynn Navarra.
Shortly after his birth in Charleston, South Carolina in 1932, his family quickly relocated back to their beloved Nashville, Tennessee. The Work family was prominent in the music world where John’s great grandfather directed the first Fisk Jubilee Singers that toured the United States and Europe. John’s father was the head of the music department at Fisk University.
Growing up in such a creative family where music filled the home, located on the campus of Fisk,that was visited upon by such legends as Duke Ellington, John inherited a profound love and appreciation for music. He recalled many times, over the course of his life, the memory of his father playing the Baby Grand piano in the living room and how it moved his very soul. John’s love of music led him to train in piano and classical guitar and extended to singing opera. Gifted with, as his father once wrote, “a voice like an angel,” John went on to pursue this genre. He practiced diligently and performed innumerous recitals.
Equally instilled in him was the importance of an education and he received his bachelor’s degree in economics at Talladega College. He was a Marshall Field Fellow in economics at the University of Chicago and earned his master’s degree in economics at the University of Tennessee, and his doctorate of economics at Indiana Northern University. While at Talladega College, John studied voice under Frank Harrison and was a member of the choir group. At the University of Chicago he was a member of the Rockefeller Chapel Choir and a soloist with that assembly. Also, in Chicago, he continued his vocal studies and performed the lead roles in Kurt Weill’s “Down in the Valley” and Menatti’s “The Telephone.”
Moving to Minneapolis in the early 1960s, John worked during the day as an economist with General Mills and joined the Civic Opera House Company. He performed the role of Pirate King in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” at the Edythe Bush Theatre. In 1961, he appeared in “Showboat” and in the Broadway production musical “Bloomer Girl.” He performed the lead role in “Masque of Angels” staged by John Olon-Scrymgeour and produced by the
Minneapolis Center Opera Company, a role written especially for him by Professor Dominik Argento from the University of Minnesota. He was the 1964 winner in the Metropolitan Opera District auditions. Among his many reviews, John was hailed by the Twin City Observer as “being able to put himself into his renditions” and that he “made his voice obey mental commands while his vocal control was not obvious to the audience.” The Star said of his performance as Tarquinius in “The Rape of Lucretia, “An experienced singer with excellent baritone and handsome in presence.” When he performed in the Masques of Angels with the Peabody Opera Company in Baltimore in 1965, Opera News stated that “John Work’s Metatron, a role he created, made an imposing, vocally opulent celestial being.” In addition to giving countless concerts throughout the Midwest, John appeared as guest artist on local radio and television stations. He also opened Northstar Artists Productions, a public relations firm that represented such artists as Petula Clark and the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
In the 1970s John worked as Vice President at the Equitable Life Insurance Company in New York City. In 1979 he left to open his own management consulting firm, Work Associates, whereby he consulted on career advancement, managing diversity, human resources relations and leadership building skills. His clients included: Revlon, Bank of America, Girl Scouts of America, the United Way and Ford. He also created the Career Visions Seminar, where he travelled from coast to coast consulting large audiences on career advancement.
In addition to the National Urban League and 100 Black Men, John was a trustee of Tougaloo College, and served on the board of United Neighborhood Centers of America. His professional memberships included the American Society for Personnel Administration and the National Association of Business Economists. John was also a devoted member of The Reveille Club, where he developed lifelong friendships.
His books and publications include: “Race, Economics and Corporate America”, “What Every CEO Already Knows about Managing Diversity”, “Toward Affirmative Action and Racial and Ethnic Pluralism” and the “Diversity Task Force Exercise Guide Book.”
Among his fictional publications are: “Dangerous Shenanigans; the Fall and Rise of a Commodities Trader” and “Ain’t no Whistle on This Train A Blowin; An African-American Trilogy,” along with his historical fiction; “Tulsa 1921 The Granddaddy of American Race Riots.”
Dr. Work was a giant of a man at heart and in spirit, quick-witted, intelligent and gentle. He was true and honest, never wavering his solid, ethical character. He’s been described many times over by those who knew him as a gentleman and one whose compassion for others was ever-present. Forever extending a hand to loved ones and strangers alike, he was generous and strong, with a great sense of humor and a hearty laugh to back it up. He left this world better for having been a part of it.
John was predeceased by his parents and brother Frederick Work. Among the many left to cherish his memory are wife Lynn Navarra, sons; John, (Vanessa) Stephen (Kris) and Peter Work and daughters Deborah Patrice Khahaifa (Avido) and Janet Work; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Also, his best four-legged pooch Sir Henry.
A memorial service will be held in New York late this summer or early fall. Anyone wishing to attend can email [email protected] for details.