Obituary Details

John Harlan Downing

(03/10/1975 - 10/09/2011)
Courtesy of The Lusk Herald, 11/02/2011

John Harlan Downing

After a courageous and painful 20-year battle with mental illness, John Downing, of Lafayette, Calif., died Oct. 9. He faced his long struggle with the relatively blunt tools of psychiatry, the love of his family and friends, and devoted but underfunded and overworked mental health professionals.

John was born in Louisville, Ky. and moved to Lafayette, Calif. at age two. In 2003 he moved to Woodland, Calif.

John was the grandson of Ione Turnbull of Lusk and the son of Tom Downing, who was raised in Rawlins and Cheyenne, and Jo Ann (Hoy) Downing, who was raised in Lusk. When John was growing up, the family visited Wyoming every year to see relatives and friends in Lusk, Cheyenne and Torrington.

As a child, John was extremely curious about the natural world and loved to explore his grandparents' ranch near Jay Em. He had tremendous physical energy and liked to test his limits from a young age. At age seven, he completed with his father the 3,000-foot climb of California's Mount Diablo on his three-speed bicycle.

From ages 9 to 14, John competed with the Diablo Valley Track and Field Club, where he was known for his gutsy finishing kick. He placed highly at state and national meets, including third place in the 3000 meters at the 1987 national championships in Philadelphia, in a race run in the rain at midnight. He was a varsity runner at Acalanes High School starting in his freshman year.

John had a quick wit and a gift for impersonation. To the end of his life he was able to make his friends and family laugh and to find humor and humanity in unexpected places such as mental hospitals.

John studied Eastern religions extensively and found comfort and wisdom in the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Vivekenanda. He enjoyed playing his guitar for family and friends, and was accomplished in many styles, from classical to rock.

John was preceded in death by his grandparents, Larry and Nanine Downing of Cheyenne, grandfather Raymond Hoy of Lusk and step-grandfather Roy Turnbull of Lusk.

He is survived by his parents, Jo Ann and Tom of Lafayette, Calif.; his brother Jim, sister-in-law Seema Bhangar and nephew Rohan of Oakland, Calif.; grandmother Ione Turnbull of Lusk; great uncle and aunt Don and Phyllis Hoy of Torrington; aunt Debbie Bott of Cheyenne; uncle Sam Downing of Tampa, Fla.; cousins and extended family in Wyoming, India and elsewhere; and close friends Eric Holverson of Bend, Ore. and Victor Garcia of Woodland, Calif.. The family would also like to acknowledge the support of Gloria Hill of Contra Costa Mental Health Services, Dr. Ramon Garcia, Dr. Arturo Villamor, Dr. George Daskalos, Sandy Coldiron, Julia Holzapfel, and the caring staffs at the Yolo Community Care Continuum and the Yolo County Department of Mental Health.

A memorial service will be scheduled shortly. For details or to convey a message to the family please write to

Donations may be made in John's name to the following organizations:

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of Contra Costa, P.O. Box 21247, Concord, CA 94521 YCCC, PO Box 1101, Davis, CA 95617

Images & Attachments

Photo by Debbie Rose

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