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John Howard Jenkins, 62, of Salt Lake City, Utah, died peacefully in the early morning hours of February 28, 2023. Born May 12, 1960 in Salt Lake City, to Joseph Richard Jenkins and Rose Catherine Bennett Jenkins, he was the youngest of three children. Pleased to have been named after his paternal grandfather, he continued the tradition by naming his son after his own father.
John was brilliant from a young age. The first word he learned to spell was A-R-C-H-I-T-E-C-T. Someone asked 5 year old John what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said: a Nobel Prize winner. He read the entire 26-volume Encyclopedia for fun one summer when he was around ten. Having an outstanding memory, he retained what he learned. At recess, he played Star Trek with friends, in the role of Spock, of course. Once on a bet he read one book a day for 365 days, winning the grand prize of a dollar. John was an Eagle Scout. He loved Star Trek, Star Wars, Science, Science Fiction and was an Isaac Asimov super fan. He corresponded with Mr. Asimov, and cherished the signed postcards he received from him growing up. He collected copies of all but 1 or 2 books Asimov wrote. Until John’s death he managed the Isaac Asimov Blog and Wiki. John had sophisticated telescopes and loved star-gazing and eclipse watching.
John played the clarinet, very badly, in the Jr. High band. Piano lessons were short-lived. But he constantly listened to classical music growing up and throughout his life. He recognized works and properly identified the composers much better than his music-major wife. He found this amusing; so did she. He did not fancy himself a singer, but could render Gilbert & Sullivan patter songs most excellently, and adored their operettas.
John graduated from Highland High School in 1978, excelled in all subjects except P.E. (he was anti-athletic), was the General Sterling Scholar, and the school Valedictorian. By the end of high school, John was proficient in FRENCH and LATIN. He enjoyed attending the Utah Shakespeare Festival over the years. He passed on his talents, his academic prowess, his clever wit, and his love for Oxford commas to his children.
He graduated from the University of Utah, adding CLASSICAL GREEK, and earning degrees in both Math and History in three years’ time. His studies were interrupted for two years while he served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Hong Kong Mission. While serving, he achieved extreme fluency in CANTONESE (plus reading and writing skills—atypical for missionaries), and he later learned conversational MANDARIN.
John met the tall, red-headed love of his life, Heidi Nelson, on the first day of 7th grade in homeroom math class. Over the next 11 years they went out only 4 times or so, but were good friends. John lost many battles along the way, but was happy to be the one who won the war! They were married in the Salt Lake Temple on June 27, 1983. She frequently told him that he was so weird. He always proudly responded with “Thank you!” or “I know!” Heidi did concede that he was a “good” weird. She was a constant, loving support for John in all his endeavors throughout their married life. They were blessed with three children, Mary Catherine, Joseph Richard, and Olivia Rose, each of whom John loved dearly; they look exactly like him—not a redhead among them!
John obtained two Master’s Degrees from the University of California at Berkeley, first studying Classical Roman and Greek History for a year, then switching to: History of Traditional Chinese Science/Astronomy; and Mathematics. While there he studied RUSSIAN and GERMAN, and worked in the Molecular Biology and Biochemistry Lab. His wife claims he was overly-educated. John declared that is not possible. He completed the coursework for two corresponding PhDs as well, but was then snatched away (to Silicon Valley) by Apple to become a Computer Scientist/Software Engineer—during a hiring freeze. It’s a good thing he took that one computer class as an undergrad! Heidi observed he was his own computer, and thought like one, so it worked. When newly wed, he started building his own computer that would support Chinese characters, but Apple released one before he could finish. Apple had him learn JAPANESE. John worked on the first Unicode Text Layout engine for macOS, used in early versions. Some years later, he moved to the Fonts team where he worked on tooling required to build Apple’s Fonts. John was one of the main contributors to the Font Book application. He represented Apple at the Ideographic Research Group. John spent his entire career working with Unicode, and represented Apple to Unicode. For a time he served as a Technical Director of Unicode, representing Unicode. He traveled worldwide, mostly in East Asia, and would always go via his beloved Hong Kong. His expertise in the Chinese language and the Deseret alphabet were an integral part of his work for Apple. And yes, it was he who added the Deseret alphabet to Unicode! Over the years he published dozens of popular public domain works in that phonetic alphabet. He authored a number of original books in many genres. His wife accidentally discovered one day that he had produced his own translation of the New Testament from the original Greek.
While in grad school he began studying ITALIAN just for fun, but got too busy. Over the decades he learned smatterings of conversational KOREAN, HINDI, YIDDISH, VIETNAMESE, and others. The highest number of languages ever used by him in one sentence at home was five—delightful. In most recent years John attempted to learn WELSH, the language of his ancestors. Surprisingly, he was finding it extremely difficult. He deigned not to learn Spanish or Norwegian, his wife’s second languages, but excelled at imitating them humorously.
In 2000, after 17 years living in Berkeley and San Jose, CA, the family moved back to Utah to be near family and assist with aging parents. Since then he continued to work for Apple, remotely—20 years before the pandemic made telecommuting fashionable.
John was a scriptural scholar and consistently read the Bible and the standard works in their entirety every year. Because of his expertise in history and ancient languages (yes, he studied HEBREW also), his vast knowledge of the scriptures, and his own wonderful spiritual insights, he was a master Gospel Doctrine Sunday School Teacher. A devoted and faithful member of the Church, he had a strong faith in God and a testimony of the atoning sacrifice of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He was without guile and treated everyone equally and lovingly. We take comfort in knowing that he now advances to a brighter place in his eternal progression, freed from mortal cares and trials, reunited with loved ones who have gone before. We rejoice in this with him and for him.
John is preceded in death by his parents and his favorite cousin, Jamie Lowden. He is survived by his wife, Heidi, and children: Mary (Admiral), Richard, and Olivia; and his sisters Maren Jenkins Durham (Paul), and Catherine Bates (Douglas). Though he played the curmudgeon, it was with a twinkle in his eye. John’s intelligence, sense of humor, unfailing kindness, friendship, and example will be missed and ever cherished by all who knew him.
NOTE: Due to family medical circumstances, previously announced funeral services have been postponed. Updated information will be posted. The family sincerely apologizes for any inconvenience, and is appreciative of the great outpouring of love and support it has received.
We are grateful to be able to go ahead with traditional Funeral Services:
Visitation: FRI, March 17, 6-8:00pm, Sunset Lawn: 2350 E. 1300 S.
Funeral: SAT, March 18 @ 12:00 noon: Foothill 7th Ward / 2215 E. Roosevelt Ave. / Salt Lake City (visitation prior to service, 10-11:45am).
Interment: Sunset Lawn
“Everyone in the world should be able to use their own language on phones and computers.” Unicode, a non-profit organization, has a fund-raising program for underrepresented languages of the world. This worthy cause was a huge part of John’s professional life. To make a contribution in his memory, visit https://www.unicode.org/consortium/adopt-a-character.html.
Our Durham family all loved John. We knew him as Maren’s little brother, and he was very cute and very smart. Maren became our sister-in-law and so our bond with John and sister Cathy became even stronger. We all loved his mother Rose and admired the handyman skills of Richard. We love Maren and Paul and send our condolences to all.
We are sorry for your loss, Heidi, for you, for Maren, for your children and all the family who cared deeply for John. His intelligence was amazing. He will be missed. We pray for peace and comfort for each of you. We love you!
Sad to hear about John’s passing—way too young; give a big hug to Heidi when you see her
I was shocked to hear of John’s passing. I haven’t seen him for a while but have many fond memories. He was such an astonishing intellect. Unlike so many incredibly accomplished and hyper intelligent, John was comfortable to be around. I loved feasting on his vast knowledge of such a wide range of topics and genres. RIP old friend. Till we meet again.
This is a shock that John passed away. John was a very bright, smart handsome man. He has a great wife and family and wonderful sisters Maren and Cathy. Know it’s special to see his parents Rose and Robert again. I pray strength for all of you, it’s a hard time.❤️🙏😇
I was very sad to learn of John's passing. I know John from Unicode going back to the 90's. He will be greatly missed. Thank you for the beautifully written obiturary. The love for John is readily apparent throught the description. My condolences to his family.
Heidi. I keep thinking of the song you wrote when we were kids. “Be strong and of good courage”. Those words are true. I hope you find peace in his embrace. Jeff
What shocking sad news received today. So sorry for your loss. John was one of my favorite people in Moorpark Ward. He(and you)was always so kind to me & our family. As I’m sure most people felt who him, his intellect was very intimidating, & yet he always took the time to build my confidence as a very nervous/insecure gospel doctrine teacher, & was always willing to substitute for me when needed.
Be assured the Meek family has you & your family in our thoughts & prayers at this most difficult time.
We love you!
We are so sorry to hear about your husbands passing. We pray that you may be comforted during this difficult time.
My thoughts and love are with you Heidi and kids
John not only had many talents and was an amazing person but he was a kind and loving person as well!
He was so nice to me and my family! We would delight when he would come over to dinner at our house. I could listen to him for hours! In the course of our conversations with him and his family they would all frequently quote appropriate lines from movies verbatim which was amusing! Then they would speak Japanese to each other. It was delightful to just sit back and watch them in action!
I loved to discuss computers and technology with John and his children. I picked their brains whenever I had questions or concerns. In fact when Heidi and John were first married in the early 80’s we lived near each other in California and John volunteered to be the programmer for a new software product I was trying to develop and market called Meal Planner. It was pretty close to a popular app used today called My Fitness Pal. Working with John I found that he was so patient and brilliant! He was so wonderful to help me out!
Whenever my husband Larry and I were with John and Heidi socially people thought that John and Larry were brothers because they looked alike. They never guessed in a million years that Heidi and I were sisters and that John and Larry were unrelated.
I will miss him but will hold on to all the wonderful memories we shared!
Dearest Heidi, how sad I was to learn of your beloved John's death. It was a joy to read his obituary. What an incredibly kind wonderful and brilliant man! He was truly everything! May the Lord's richest of blessings surround you and your family and may the arms of HIS love surround you at this time, and bring you comfort.
I know that I speak for others when I state that our lives were richer and better as a result of knowing or working with John, and I feel blessed that I was able to consider him to be a good friend. I started working with John well over 20 years ago, while I was working for Adobe, on CJK- and Unihan-related issues as they affect the Unicode Standard, and our working relationship in this area actually became closer during the past three years, partly due to COVID-19. I shall miss John dearly, and I know that his family shall miss him much more so. Please accept my heartfelt condolences.
Over the years I interacted with him only a few times and electronically, in a Unicode and IRG context, while continuing to admire him from a distance. Due to our shared interest in Cantonese, I have been eagerly looking forward to meet him in person. It is a true pity that such a meeting never materialized. Let us forever remember his legacy.
As a Chinese man, I send my sincere condolences to Mr Jenkins, whose work all of us East Asians are benefiting and will continue to benefit from every single day.