John Luther Gardner 

Published 10:30 pm Tuesday, January 14, 2020

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Tryon, NC–John Luther Gardner, 78, of Tryon, NC, passed away on Tuesday, November 26, 2019, with his wife, Elizabeth, by his side. John was born in Saginaw, MI, on April 27, 1941, the son of the late John Ashworth and Dorothy Luther Gardner. He spent his childhood in Midland, MI, where his father was pastor of the local Presbyterian Church. The family moved to San Francisco in 1954 and later to Winnetka, IL, where John attended New Trier High School. John then attended Oberlin College, in Oberlin, OH, graduating with degrees in both economics and music. He earned a PhD in Economics at the University of Minnesota, leading to his lifetime career as an economist in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Washington, DC, where he served for over 30 years.


In 1984, John met the love of his life, Elizabeth Williamson, in the church choir at Washington’s historic New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, the church home of President Abraham Lincoln. Together, John and Elizabeth shared a lifelong love of music, performing for many years in the Washington Balalaika Society. In that well-known Russian ensemble, John played the gusli, a zither-like instrument, and Elizabeth played the guitar-like domra. John also loved classical organ music and was a talented organist, serving in numerous churches over the years. After retirement, he and Elizabeth continued their interest in music in the Tryon area, where they were active members of the Foothills Music Club. The couple moved from Arlington, VA, to Tryon, the same North Carolina town where John’s parents had retired decades before.

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John was always active in his communities. He served as treasurer for many organizations, including the Balalaika Society, the Central United Methodist Church in Arlington, VA, and the Foothills Music Club, as well. Over the years in Tryon, John and Elizabeth enjoyed updating and renovating Dove Cottage, the valley home where they hosted discussion meetings with fellow members from the Tryon Presbyterian Church, and pursued their longtime enjoyment of food preparation and the welcoming of friends for mealtimes and musical celebrations.


In addition to his parents, John was preceded in death by a brother-in-law, Fred Remley, of Ann Arbor, MI. Surviving is John’s wife of 35 years, Elizabeth Williamson Gardner; his sister, Anne Gardner Remley, of Ann


Arbor, MI; a nephew, Paul Gardner Remley, and wife, Fiona Robertson Remley, of Seattle, WA; and niece, Catherine Anne (Kate) Remley, and husband, Dylan Williams, of Boulder, CO. Also surviving are cousins, Rolinda (Lin) Downie Thompson and Joan Jenkins Lohmann, and several nieces and nephews.


A memorial service is planned for 11:00 a.m., Saturday, January 18, in Tryon Presbyterian Church, 430 Harmon Field Road. All are welcome. Memorial gifts may be made to the Tryon Presbyterian Church Organ Fund or the Smith Phayer Hospice House, 260 Fairwinds Drive, Landrum, SC 29356.


An online guest register is available at


McFarland Funeral Chapel & Crematory

Tryon, NC