John Robert Dover

John Robert Dover and his great-granddaughter Lena Thomas.

BERNE — A trader in commodities with a wide range of interests, John Robert Dover was a perfectionist.

“Everything he did, he did really well,” said his daughter, Laurie Searl, of Berne.

He had moved to Berne in 2012 to live with his family after he suffered a stroke in February 2012. His beloved wife of 57 years, Florence (née Urann) Dover, had died.

Mr. Dover died peacefully at the Searls’ Berne home on Tuesday, Nov. 26, with his daughter and granddaughter by his side. He was 88 years old.

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Dec. 9, 1924, he lived most of his life in suburban New Jersey. Mr. Dover was the son of the late Giles Lucas Dover and Lena (née Thogmorton) Dover. His father was an executive for the D & H Railroad and his mother was a homemaker.

Originally from Millburn, N.J., Mr. Dover was a student at Dartmouth College during World War II.  “He studied French at Dartmouth,” said his daughter, and had thoughts of becoming an ambassador. “He really loved Dartmouth.”

He enlisted in Dartmouth’s Marine Corps V-12 program on his 18th birthday. A second lieutenant at Camp Lejeune when the war ended, he was later promoted to captain in the Marine Reserves.

“He liked being a Marine,” said his daughter, “and taught us how to march, doing turns and about faces,” she said, recalling that, until she was about 12, she thought this is what all kids did.

After graduating from Dartmouth in 1946, Mr. Dover worked at W.R. Grace for five years, and then took a position with American Sugar Company (Amstar Corporation), eventually becoming vice president of the Raw Sugar Department. “He bought and sold raw sugar on the commodities market; it was really exciting to him,” said his daughter.

Mr. Dover lived in Summit, N.J. for 20 years, and New Vernon, N.J. for 34 years.

“The first house I remember was in Long Island,” said Laurie Searl. “He built a huge patio there and he refinished the basement,” making a playroom with built-in cabinets. “And he built a rabbit hutch for me when I wanted a rabbit,” she added.

Later, at the Dovers’ home in New Jersey, he built an elaborate set of steps for a front entrance to the old house; the stairs were made of red shale he found at a building site. “They were throwing it away,” his daughter recalled of the shale. “He damaged his back carrying these enormous pieces of stone every weekend.”

Using frames and paving cement, Mr. Dover set each stone in place. “Forty years later, the steps are still there, in perfect condition,” she said. “They are just beautiful.”

She continued about herself and her three siblings, “We all wanted to be like him…He was definitely a perfectionist. He was interested in life and wanting to do a lot of things.” All of those things, he did whole-heartedly.

Mr. Dover was involved with his four children — three daughters and a son. He had played football in high school and, before the days of Pop Warner, said Ms. Searl, “He got my brother and all the neighborhood kids to play football.”

He was also an avid tennis player, playing into his 70s. He was a member of the Dartmouth Outing Club, the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City, the Copper Springs Club, and the Summit Tennis Club.

As a gardener, Mr. Dover planted shrubs and trees, and flowers, as well as building patios and stone walls.

He took beautiful black-and-white photographs, developing his own film and printing his own pictures in a basement darkroom he built.

Mr. Dover researched his family’s genealogy assiduously. “We spent a lot of our vacations going to graveyards or waiting while he studied in some library,” said his daughter. “He kept really detailed, careful records,” she said, as he traced the lineage of family members — some of them Confederate soldiers in the Civil War, back to Revolutionary times.

He collected clocks and taught himself to repair antique clocks. “He liked old things,” said his daughter, and he liked to fix them. She described a clock from 1785 that was missing the weights that would make it work.

“He got jars of nuts and bolts and got the exact right weight to make it keep accurate time,” she said.

When she was a child and would have girlfriends visit for sleepovers, Ms. Searl recalled, “All the clocks would drive my friends crazy, constantly ticking.”

She recalled, too, when she and her husband were in their 20s, “We wanted to go to Europe and my Dad gave us enough money to go.” She rewarded him with a marble clock she had found in pieces in southern France and lugged across the continent, frequently having it searched for drugs or bombs.

“He fixed it,” she said. “It was kind of amazing.”

A lifelong lover of the Adirondack Mountains, in his retirement, Mr. Dover designed a vacation home on Gull Pond in Piercefield, N.Y. He was president of the Gull Pond Association for a number of years. He enjoyed designing and building rustic furniture for the camp.

As a child, he had visited the Adirondacks , mainly in the Indian Lake area, and then, in turn, he brought his children to the region when they were young. “He liked canoeing,” said Ms. Searl. “He liked the stillness and the vistas. He just liked the woods, the quiet.”

Mr. Dover was also musical and liked to sing with his brother, especially at holidays. Their family was from Missouri and he liked to play southern songs and country tunes on his harmonica.

He loved music and continued playing the harmonica, even after his stroke, until the last year of his life.

“His legacy was to be interested and have a full life,” said Laurie Searl. “He taught us to be really involved in everything you do.”


John Robert Dover is survived by his four children, Catherine Stetson and her husband, Robert, of Needham, Mass., John Dover and his wife, Virginia, of North Hampton, N.H., Laurie Searl and her husband, Duncan, of Berne, and Sarah Russo and her husband, Henry, of Green Village, N.J.

He is also survived by 11 grandchildren, Jonathan Stetson, Timothy Stetson;  Russell Dover and his wife, Leticia Villalón Soler, Jackson Dover, Travis Dover; Eliot Searl and his wife, Julia Schuyler, Elizabeth Searl Thomas, Rebecca Searl and her husband, Trevor Higgins, Ethan Searl and his wife, Carly Willsie; Heather Russo, and Tiffany Russo.

He is survived, too, by 10 great-grandchildren, Rowan Stetson; Lucía Dover Villalón; Lena, Evan, and Clara Thomas, Adelaide and Soren Searl, Alistair Higgins; and  Kamik and Zariah Russo. 

His brother, Pliny Giles Dover, died before him as did his sister, Mary Jane (Trickey) Lott.

A wake and funeral were held in New Jersey on Dec. 1, with donations made to The Wild Center, 45 Museum Drive, Tupper Lake, NY 12986.

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

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