In memory of

John F. North, age 70, of Helena formerly of Bigfork and Kalispell

February 6, 1948 – March 1, 2018

Montana lost John North on March 1, 2018.   The state is poorer with his passing; every wilderness area in the state a little emptier; humor and optimism a bit more scarce; Lady Griz basketball one fan short; state lands supported with one less voice.

A member of the Shodair/Florence Crittenton class of 1948, John grew up in Bigfork with Florence and Fred North.  He loved them, loved the Flathead Valley, and came to love the beauty that defined Montana.  He worked his way through the University of Montana as a custodian at Bigfork’s high school and came away with a bachelor’s degree in history/political science, a law degree, and life-long friends from the Wesley Foundation Covenant Group.  His career as a lawyer began with the Flathead County attorney’s office, moved to Helena where he worked first for the Attorney General. He served as chief legal counsel for Gov. Ted Schwinden, the Department of State Lands, and the Department of Environmental quality.  John took great pride in well-written and thoroughly researched environmental laws and rules.

In 1974, John married Dawn Whitaker, also of Bigfork, a partnership that lasted forty-three years. They championed the Prickly Pear Land Trust, the Nature Conservancy, public radio, and dry humor.  They belonged to Covenant United Methodist Church, and welcomed visitors from around the world to their home. Twenty-eight summers they made eight-day backpack trips into Montana wilderness areas. They also hiked Yellowstone park regularly, lost track of trails they explored in the region, happily rode trains back and forth across the country, skied into back-country cabins, attended Lady Griz basketball games, gardened (John specialized in weeding), travelled the globe, enthusiastically watched baseball, and championed environmental consciousness with their Prius, solar panels, recycling, and lifestyle.  Friends and those who encountered him in life as well as the courtroom, remember John’s honesty, quick dry wit, meticulous attention to detail, and kind heart.

John is survived by Dawn; his son, Arif Nairam; a granddaughter, Aaliyah Nairam; Border collie, Alder; and cat, Pintler.  Also surviving are Dawn’s parents, Richard and Nancy Whitaker; her sisters and their families: Sherrie and Tim Calaway, Lori and Rod Walton; his mother’s sister, Marna Hartman, and all the wonderful Ohio family.

A celebration of John’s life will be held from noon until the cows come home, on Saturday, June 23rd at the family’s home. Memorial donations may be sent to the Prickly Pear Land Trust, P.O. Box 892, Helena, MT 59624 or to The Nature Conservancy of Montana, 32 S. Ewing St. Suite 215, Helena, MT 59601, or Last Chance Public Radio P.O Box 1072, Helena, MT 59624, or any other public radio station of one’s choosing.  Please visit to offer condolences or share a memory of John.


Read the thoughts and memories, then feel free to add your own.

  1. Jeff and Melissa Sherlock says:

    So sorry to hear of John’s passing. John was one of the very best lawyers around; always prepared, pleasant to deal with and smart as could be. His subtle court room sense of humor was always appreciated. Peace to his family and loved ones.

  2. Joe Roberts says:

    So sorry to hear that Dawn. John and I went through law school together and I always enjoyed him immensely—- a soft-spoken, bright and most amiable guy. He will be missed by many.

  3. Patrick Johnson says:

    I met John when I went to work at Montana DEQ 10 years ago. He was friendly, humble, extemely wise, respected and had a sense of humor. I visited with him three weeks ago and found him his usual wise, humorous self. John was a good man who is sorely missed by all who knew him.

  4. Mike, Jane & Andrew Bishop says:

    We are so sorry for your loss. It seems unbelievable that we have been friends for 40 years (we can’t be that old). A mainstay in the Helena natural resource arena, has been John with his kind manner and strong work ethic. John was a person that endeavored make a difference at work while embracing what life offered with exuberance.

    I have to smile when I think of some of the discussions I had with John about how to be thrifty.

    John will be sorely missed as a cornerstone of the Helena Community.

    All our best to you, with prayers…

  5. Viola "Vi" Zindell says:

    Dawn, so sorry for your loss. I worked with John over 20 years ago when he worked for the Department of State Lands. I had set up a small library in the office next to his office. The last day I worked there, he had prepared a sign that said “The VIola Zindell Memorial LIbrary”. That meant alot to me. What a thoughtful man!

  6. Will and Rose Harmon says:

    Dawn, we’re so saddened to hear that John is gone. Seems like only yesterday we were all conspiring to create a land trust, or running into each other in slickrock slot canyons. John was always thoughtful, authentic, friendly, and subtly hilarious. Helena and the world at large are better for his life-long efforts to preserve and protect a patch here and there.

  7. Toni and Bob Person says:

    We are so sorry to hear of the sudden passing of our friend John. He will have a special place in our hearts especially at our weekly Volleyball games where we shared so much fun, laughter and friendship.

  8. Don and Vickie Cox says:

    Dawn – We were so sad to hear about John. We’re thinking of you. John was one of kind, and will be missed.

  9. Len Iwanski and Kathleen Sullivan says:

    We were greatly saddened to hear of John’s passing, and we offer our deepest condolences for your loss.

  10. Sarah Bond says:

    Dawn and who knew John:

    So saddened to hear of this loss. John was a rock: always kind, respectful, discreet, but with a quiet sense of humor who loved a good yarn. My favorite of his habits was when you told him a good joke, he would laugh with his whole body and smile so wide his face disappeared behind that guffaw. It became my quest to make him laugh as often as possible to get me through the work day.

  11. Roger Thorvilson says:

    I was so sorry to hear of John’s sudden passing. He was truly one of the good ones. It was a pleasant surprise and a great pleasure to bump into you two a couple times in the past few years at summer playhouses in Philipsburg and Virginia City. I enjoyed our chances to visit and catch up a bit on what was happening in our lives since John and I last worked together. He will be missed.

  12. Dal & Jane Smilie says:

    We are really sad to see the passing of John. He was great to work with over many years. A thoughtful and helpful person. He did much to benefit our community far in to the future. He had a wry and dry humor

    Too young

  13. KD Feeback says:

    Dawn and all:

    I am very sorry to hear of John’s death and offer you my heartfelt condolences. I will greatly miss his dry wit and incisive knowledge of natural resource law. With my law partner, Alan Joscelyn, John was a constant in my professional life and I will truly miss him.

  14. Kevin Kirley says:

    I’m sad to hear of John’s passing away. John and I had great times living next to one another in Miller Hall at the UM in late 60s. He was always ready with a smile and had good things to say about people. A hilarious moment (for me, not him) was when we were lab partners for a quarter in Zoology. Our class had fetal pigs to dissect over two or three weeks. John usually watched while I did the scalpel work but one day I said, “It’s your turn.” He gave me a sheepish look and replied OK. John sliced in to the stomach cavity and a little bit of green fluid appeared. He just about fell over moving out of the way and his face turned much the same shade of green. We had good laughs over that pig whenever I ran into him at DEQ or elsewhere. John will be missed but I’m better for having known him.

  15. Phyllis Michelson says:

    Dear Dawn,
    I’m so sad to hear of John’s passing. I think of him getting lost in Italy! Seems like yesterday. My prayers are with you.

  16. Jane Benson says:

    Dawn: I have such good and interesting memories of you and John when we lived across the street from each other back in the 1980s. I am so sorry to learn that John has left this Earth, and I wish you well in the future.

  17. Mike Young says:

    John and I were friends in law school at UM and later when we both went to work for state agencies. He and Dawn could be seen walking together all over Missoula. He was a quiet, thoughtful and compassionate man who took his work very seriously. He will be missed by his family and the many people who knew him.

  18. Loretta Carter says:

    Dawn, I’m so sorry to learn of your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  19. Jesika Fisher says:

    I am so sorry to hear of this. How heartbreaking for you and your family. Please know our prayers are for you today.
    Jesika, Jonah, and Isaac

  20. Dick and Judy Juntunen says:

    Of all the people I have met, John was the gentleman.

    Dick and Judy Juntunen

  21. Bill MacBride says:

    I am very sad to learn of John’s passing. Nancy and I have always considered John and you valued friends; and I found it a rare pleasure whenever John and I worked together on a matter. As honest, kind and sincere a person as there has ever been, John is a great loss to the state, the community and to all of us who had the honor of knowing him.
    You are in our thoughts and prayers.
    God bless,
    Bill and Nancy MacBride

  22. Dee Turner says:

    I’m saddened with the news of husband’s death. Please know I’m sending positive energy and prayers your way. I’m really sorry.

  23. Dennis and Mary Kay Hemmer says:

    John truly was a gentleman and a gentle man. He was also a fantastic person. The world is a poorer place without him.

  24. Dan and Marcy McLean says:

    Dawn, Marcy and I were shocked and very saddened to learn of John’s death. we didn’t know until reading the obit this morning. What a kind and gentle soul, like you as well. We were so happy to meet you and John on our trip to Rome and Florence in 2013. Traipsing around Florence was a hoot — we laughed so hard in the last museum we visited. He said if we saw one more “Madonna and Child”, it would be way too soon.

    We tried, but not hard enough, to get together with you and John ever since then. The few times weren’t enough. We will make a point to do that with you. We agree that Helena and Montana’s wild places are poorer without John. We thank him (and you) for all that he did for our environment. May God bless you and keep you, Dawn, especially during this time of grieving your loss.

  25. Mike Halligan says:

    From the time I became a legislator in 1981 I was blessed with getting to know and work with John in his role with the Attorney General, then as Chief Legal Counsel for the Department of State Lands. He was truly one of the finest examples of a public employee who was dedicated to service, ethical decision making and he was civil before being civil was cool. He left a legacy in state government that will be hard to match. My heart goes out to his family. He gave his all for Montana. I’m honored to have known him.

  26. Bob Schleicher says:

    John was a great guy. We had adjoining offices in the Governor’s Office. We had many conversations over the 18 months we worked together. He really enjoyed public service and he was a great role model to me just getting started in my state government career. I also enjoyed and remember the fun times we spent together with Dawn at the annual Last Chance Radio auction. He left a great legacy and will really be missed.


  27. Lorraine Carlson says:

    John was a valued addition to our group of lifelong friends from the Wesley Foundation. His wisdom and humor and quiet assurance have been well-documented. He was also a cherished friend. What a blessing to have been able to call him “friend.” The universe is a better place because he decided to play a role in it. Godspeed, Dawn and family.

  28. Claudia Montagne says:

    Dear Dawn, I am so saddened about John’s death. What a loss for you, his family, and the entire community in Helena, Montana, and beyond. I have such fond memories of both of you – always kind, generous, thoughtful and full of smiles. Even though I am now gone from the hood, it is still my home in my heart. II is hard to think of South Beattie Street without him. I will hold you both in my heart especially during this time of your most potent grief. With love, Claudia

  29. Merilee & Lauren McClurg says:

    Dear Dawn — Our hearts go out to you about John’s death. But we are so glad we got to visit
    with you both at a class reunion in the Flathead a couple years ago. I attended Bigfork Schools and the Methodist Church with John and remember him well. He used his intelligence and empathy well then and throughout his life. He will certainly be missed by many people.

  30. Donna and Al Hathy says:

    We are so sorry for the loss of your beloved husband. I remember all the great times we had on our backpack trips! I especially remember the trip in the Bitterroots to White Sands Lake and all the moose we saw. I remember swimming with the moose in the lake.

  31. Cindy Younkin says:

    John was a wonderful person, great attorney and fantastic to work with. My first work with him was with the Board of Environmental Review more than 20 years ago now. Always professional and thorough in all he did. He was an asset to the legal profession and to the State of Montana. He’s hiking in his favorite spots now. God Bless him and his family.

  32. Karan Dunnigan says:

    Condolences on John’s passing. Gone too soon, but he leaves a legacy of great legal work on behalf of the state and its citizens. I worked with John on many mining cases over the years, and it was always a pleasure. He was dedicated, thoughtful, and gave freely of his time and knowledge. My thoughts are with you at this difficult time.

  33. Donna Dyrdahl says:

    Dawn, I am so sorry to hear of John’s passing. I always loved to hear about the hikes that Judy took with you and John each year. She really looked forward to that shared time. My sympathy.

Add your thoughts and memories.