John Robert Austin, 87, Sears security director

March 28, 2003|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

John Robert Austin, a former security director for Sears, Roebuck and Co. and combat veteran of World War II, died of complications from diabetes March 21 at Bonnie Blink Masonic Home in Cockeysville. He was 87.

Born and raised in Fairview, W.Va., Mr. Austin graduated from Fairmont State College in his home state in 1935. He taught elementary school for several years there, then became a deputy sheriff for Marion County, W.Va.

At the beginning of World War II, Mr. Austin enlisted in the Army and served as a sergeant in the 97th Division. He received the Purple Heart for combat injuries in Europe, and also served in the Pacific during the U.S. occupation of Japan.

After the war, Mr. Austin returned briefly to the sheriff's office until he was appointed chief of police in Fairmont -- a position he held until 1956, when he became superintendent of prisons for West Virginia.

In 1958, Mr. Austin moved his family to Parkville so he could accept a position as internal security director for Sears, Roebuck and Co. Based at its store on North Avenue, Mr. Austin created the security protocol for stores throughout the region. He also managed a staff of three full-time and 22 part-time security guards there, and was known for always having a smile, former co-workers said.

"He was a fine man," said Bruce N. Wilcox, a retired Sears operations manager. "He was friendly with the police officers, with everyone really."

When he retired in 1978, Mr. Austin and his wife, the former Margaret Louise Pitzer, moved to Cockeysville. He became a flea market vendor, repairing and selling watches.

"I've got a million of them," said his daughter, Dianna Dove Morgan of Cockeysville. "He loved all watches."

For the past two years, Mr. Austin lived at Bonnie Blink. His daughter said he always kept candy and dog biscuits nearby so he could give treats to children and pets who visited.

"He loved children and animals," Mrs. Morgan said. "He was a very giving person."

Mr. Austin was a member of the Landmark Blue Lodge and Boumi Temple, and a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Fraternal Order of Police and Order of the Moose in West Virginia.

Mr. Austin's wife of 65 years died in September.

Services for Mr. Austin were held Saturday.

In addition to his daughter, survivors include a son, Arthur L. Austin of Altoona, Pa.; a sister, Alberta Jones of Fairmont; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

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