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Saturday, September 2, 2017

John Rather

    His death received little attention when he died at the age of 93 on July 25, 2013 at the Heron Point retirement community in Chestertown, Maryland, where he had lived since 2004. The cause of death was complications of Alzheimer's disease. During his lifetime Rather was a highly respected chess editor, bibliophile and bookseller. He won the CCLA's Class A North American Class Championship in 1967 and the Washington DC championship in 1973.
     Rather was born in Brooklyn, New York on March 31, 1920 and attended Erasmus Hall High School, the one attended by Bobby Fischer and dozens of other well known people. Rather had learned to play chess at the age of 15 and by the time he attended college, he was proficient enough that he was able to play and defeat three of his professors in a simultaneous blindfold exhibition.
Rather in 1944
     He graduated from Amherst College in June of 1942 and joined the Army, serving for three-and-a-half years. He served as a specialist in cryptography and cryptanalysis. His first duty station was Allahabad, India, best known as the hometown of that country's emerging political leader, Jawaharlal Nehru. The four men in his group sent and received coded transmissions regarding the movements of the Air Transport Command, the American planes flying "over the hump" to and from Burma. In his free time he immersed himself in the local culture. He also contracted polio but did not suffer severely and remained in India until he was cured.
     After his release from active duty, he worked in trade magazine editing for five years which included travel magazines, Medical Economics and Chess Review before deciding he needed a change. During his time as Chess Review staff writer he ghosted material published under Samuel Reshevskys name. He moved on to a library career, but never gave up his fascination for the game and played regularly in tournaments.
     In 1951 he received a Masters in Library Science from Columbia University and was accepted into the Library of Congress Intern Program and subsequently worked as a cataloger and then as Assistant Chief of the Library's Descriptive Cataloging Division. He was heavily involved in the automation of the Library's bibliographic collections, rising to the position of Director of its Technical Processes Research Office. He retired from the Library of Congress in 1976 and devoted his energies to his first love, chess.
     He married his first wife in 1953 and had two children, Susan and Bruce. She died of cancer shortly after their 10th anniversary. He remarried in 1964. This time to a librarian with the Library of Congress. She subsequently became head of a Library of Congress division, with 700 employees, and retired in 1991. In retirement, they enjoyed traveling, particularly to Great Britain, while he devoted a lot of time participating in backgammon tournaments. After his retirement, he also became a book dealer in Kensington, Maryland, specializing in old and rare chess books which he sold to collectors and libraries all over the world. He specialized in chess, magic and mountaineering and continued this occupation into the early 2000s.
     In this game his opponent was Kenneth Clayton (born July 26, 1938). Clayton won US Amateur Championship in 1963. He attended Harvard University but did not finish. His picture was on the cover of the June, 1963 issue of Chess Life magazine. He was stationed in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and is credited by Paul Truong with teaching him chess.
     The game was played in the Washington DC Chess Divan championship for 1963‐64. The championship was won by the unheralded Bob Gauntt, who scored 7.5-2.5. Clayton and Rather both scored 7.0 with Claton getting second on tiebreaks. Most of the top players in the area, Eliot Hearst, Hans Bereliner, Herbert Avram and Larry Gilden did not compete in the event, which usually drew a strong field.

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