John A. Zeigler, Jr., of Charleston, died in his home on October 2 at the age of 103. A proud and celebrated Charlestonian, he was a vibrant and vital link to several layers of the city’s cultural past and present. Born on February 5, 1912 in Manning, South Carolina, John graduated high school in Florence, where his father was a newspaper editor. He visited Charleston regularly as a child, staying with his aunts in the family home at the corner of College and Greene Streets. He entered the Citadel in 1928 and graduated in 1932. An aspiring writer, he founded and edited The Shako, a literary magazine, at the Citadel. He also joined the Poetry Society of South Carolina, in which he would remain active for decades. And he participated in the Dock Street Theatre playwriting competition, run first by DuBose Heyward and then his widow, Dorothy. He came to know other writers of what would be dubbed the Charleston Renaissance, including Josephine Pinckney, John Bennett, and Katherine Drayton Mayrant Simmons. He was especially close to the cultural leader Laura Bragg. After graduation, John briefly taught high school in Charleston under the aegis of the Works Progress Administration and at the height of the Depression moved to Washington, DC, where he worked at the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. In Washington, he was editor of the little magazine Foothills, which featured many young writers, including Jessamyn West. He was also part of a group of friends that would be chronicled in 1993 in Jeb and Dash: The Diary of a Gay Life, 1918 – 1945, edited by Ina Russell. John, under a pseudonym, is a prominent figure in the book. When the book was dramatized and John’s identity became known, he received letters from around the world from people touched by his story and his later writings. In 1940, while staying on the Isle of Palms, he met the man who would be his partner for the next half-century, Edwin Peacock. They were introduced through Edwin’s longtime friend, the writer Carson McCullers. Not long after, John and Edwin volunteered for the armed forces, and tried their best to stay together during the war years. John served in the Navy as a radioman, stationed first in Alaska and then aboard the USS Dickens as it carried soldiers to Iwo Jima. After the war, John and Edwin reunited and settled in Charleston, and they founded The Book Basement on the ground floor of John’s family house at 9 College. The store opened on February 19, 1946 (their friend McCullers’s birthday), and it would have a major impact on the cultural and intellectual life of the city. Over the years, many writers and artists of local and national repute, such as Langston Hughes, Maurice Sendak, and the lithographer Prentiss Taylor, were drawn to the shop’s relaxed and graceful atmosphere. Many less famous Charlestonians, especially intellectually-minded young men and women at the College of Charleston, felt just as welcome there. For as much as John and Edwin loved books, they loved people more; they made friends easily, both throughout Charleston and on their world travels. They also stood, gently and graciously, against prevailing attitudes about race and homosexuality. They both joined the NAACP in the 1940s and served on the city’s Interracial Committee. In 1971, the College of Charleston acquired the property at 9 College for its expanding campus, and John and Edwin retired from The Book Basement. They moved to Ansonborough, restoring a historic home in which they would host in ensuing years an ever-widening circle of local friends and guests from around the world. And it was during this period that John returned to his love of poetry. In 1984, he published his first collected volume, Alaska and Beyond, which recalled, in part, his time in Alaska during World War II. After Edwin’s death in 1989, John turned his focus to philanthropy, becoming a major patron of the musical arts. He was particularly supportive of the College of Charleston, for which he endowed fifteen scholarships over the next two decades, helping to launch the international careers of many young musicians. He also supported the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Spoleto Festival USA, and often housed visiting artists in his home. In 2007, John published a second poetry collection, The Edwin Poems. The story of his life, Edwin and John, came out in 2009. Though he did not seek honors, John nevertheless received them: the College of Charleston Alumni Association Alumni Award of Honor, the only award the Alumni Association bestows on non-graduates, in 2010; recognition by the Association of Fundraising Professionals for philanthropic activities on National Philanthropy Day in 2010; the Doctor of Humane Letters from the College of Charleston and the Order of the Silver Crescent from the state of South Carolina in 2011; and then the State’s highest honor for contributions to the arts, the Elizabeth O’Neill Verner Award in 2013. That year, at the age of 101, the magazine Charlie recognized him as one of the “50 Most Progressive” people in Charleston. Those lucky enough to know John will always remember his charm, his wit, his pipping laugh, and his marvelous ability to tell a good story. John is survived by eleven nephews and nieces, as well as their many children and grandchildren. He is predeceased by his partner of 49 years, Edwin Peacock, three siblings, Virginia Z. Potter, Marguerite Z. Williams, and William B. Zeigler, and one nephew, John Z. Williams. A memorial celebration of his life will be held at 3:00 P.M. on Oct 17th, 2015 at the Recital Hall, Simons Center for the Arts, College of Charleston, 54 St. Philip Street. Memorial donations may be made to the John A. Zeigler, Jr. Music Scholarship at the College of Charleston, 66 George Street, Charleston, 29424 and the Low Country Food Bank, 2864 Azalea Drive, North Charleston, 29405.
Posted in: The Post and Courier
Posted on: 2015-10-06
Link to original obituary: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/charleston/obituary.aspx?n=john-a-zeigler&pid=176023064#sthash.rauLM9fu.dpuf