‘An anchor in the community’: John Currier ’79 Th’81 remembered for affable personality and deep commitment to Thayer

Friends and colleagues recall “John-isms” and Currier’s commitment to his passions.

by Daniel Modesto | 12/29/21 2:00am

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Currier, second from the right, is pictured with the MVP Robotics Team. 

Source: Courtesy of Joe McLaughlin

Always radiating positivity, John Currier ’79 Th’81 was known for his dedication to his research and compassion for those around him. He worked as a research engineer at the Thayer School of Engineering for over 40 years at Dartmouth, and had a profound impact on his engineering students and colleagues through his work.

Currier died on Nov. 15 at 64 years old in his home in Danville, Vermont after a nine-year battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife Barbara Currier, his children Zachary and Katie Currier and his siblings Megan, Mary and Joel. 

A fixture at Thayer for decades, Currier held a deep passion for his work as he contributed to ongoing research on artificial joints. Thayer dean Alexis Abramson recalled meeting Currier during a tour of the research laboratories shortly after becoming dean of Thayer in 2019. 

“What I remember talking to John about [was] just the passion that he had for the research, and for the impact that it could have [by] making orthopedic implants work better in humans,” Abramson said. “That was really what was driving his research, so it was great to engage with him in that discussion.”

Currier specialized in orthopedics, eventually collaborating with Dartmouth football coach Buddy Teevens ’79 to develop the Mobile Virtual Player, according to Abramson. The MVP was the first robotic tackling dummy to increase safety in contact sports and was conceived in the ENGS 89/90, “Engineering Design Methodology and Project Initiation” class, Abramson said. After the Dartmouth football team piloted the product, Currier and Teevans founded the company “MVP Robotics” in 2016, and the MVP is now used by the NFL, college and youth leagues and the military.

MVP Robotics president and CEO Joe McLaughlin ’81 first met Currier in 2016, when McLaughlin was interested in becoming an investor in the company. According to McLaughlin, Currier’s three passions were his family, God and Dartmouth, which he “didn’t disguise” in his interactions with others. If someone “didn’t like John, there was something wrong with [them],” McLaughlin said. 

“His passion was open — it was evident and it was contagious,” McLaughlin said. “He smiled about everything.”

According to the Valley News, Currier was born in St. Johnsbury, VT and was raised on a multigenerational farm. He graduated from Dartmouth with his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in 1979 and 1981, respectively, and went on to work for a petroleum company — Atlantic Richfield — in Texas and Alaska. In 1994, Currier returned to the Upper Valley and started working at the Dartmouth Biomedical Engineering Center for Orthopedics, according to Thayer’s website.

Though Currier was a research engineer, many faculty members recalled his ability to connect with students. Engineering professor Laura Ray said he was a “great mentor” to students, most of whom initially thought he was a faculty member. Ray added that he also directly worked with and hired Thayer students on projects.

“He sat on review boards for another one of our [Thayer] courses, [and] he worked with students directly and sponsored these projects and hired them,” Ray said. “He had such an impact on hundreds and hundreds of students over his career.”

Engineering professor Sol Diamond said that Currier provided his mentees “personal and professional growth [opportunities].”

“I remember students turning the machine over and showing me all the mechanical components on the inside, [and] explaining how it all worked, and not because they had to, but because they wanted to,” he said. “They were just excited about it. That’s something that you see when a project is well managed, and when students are receiving the best mentorship.”

McLaughlin noted what he called “John-isms,” certain quotes frequently used by Currier. He recalled that when Currier was creating MVP Robotics, he would tell McLaughlin that “you don’t get done learning stuff,” a motto that was “the perfect phrase of what we needed to do [at MVP Robotics].” Other times, McLaughlin said Currier would want to “spend some windshield time together” — have personal conversations to help Currier get to know others.

“Those were just John-isms,” he said. “We still use it now with respect and a big smile on our face and in our hearts to honor him.”

According to Diamond, Currier’s energy made him an “anchor in the community” for maintaining a “positive social and work environment for everybody.”

Engineering professor Douglas Van Citters, a close friend, delivered the eulogy at Currier’s memorial service. In the eulogy, he recalled those same “windshield conversations” with Currier, as well as his involvement at Dartmouth. Van Citters spoke of Currier’s ability to make “each of us feel like we were the most important thing to him.”

“He knew everyone’s kids by name, by age and by interest,” Van Critters said at the eulogy. “This was genuine and sincere because he actually wanted to know: ‘How are the kids?’”

The memorial service was held on Nov. 20 at Williamstown Lutheran Church in Graniteville, VT. A recording of the service is available on Facebook. According to Currier’s memorial service page on Facebook, donations in memory of Currier may be directed to Thayer, and the family is working with the College to create an appropriate tribute to John to be determined at a later date.

Diamond described Currier as someone who took “personal responsibility” for the wellbeing of the community.

“If you have enough John Curriers in your community,” Diamond said, “we’re all going to be okay.”

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