John Knox Hayes was born on July 17, 1938 to Clayton and Modene (Childress) Hayes in Weatherford, Texas. He was born shortly after his grandfather remarried, and his grandfather and his new wife had to come home early from their honeymoon to prepare the house for him. He got the name John from his paternal grandfather, a cattle rancher in Texas, and the name Knox from his maternal grandfather. He was raised in both Texas and southern California. When he was young, he lived less than a mile from where Disneyland was being built, a fact that awed and impressed his own children when they were young. His parents were avid poker players, and he always impressed on his own children the importance of never drawing to an inside straight.
John dropped out of high school and joined the Army when he was 17. He did 6 months of active duty, then the reserves for several years. John wasn’t that anxious to go get shot at, but he did like the road to college. While he was in the army, the chief cook always requested John to peel potatoes, so John once asked why he always got stuck on the potato pile. “Because you are fast and do a good job, and never complain.” His sergeant woke him and his fellow recruits when the Suez War began, announcing, “Everyone wake up. We’re going to war.” John said that he really regretted not paying better attention when they showed him how to assemble the rifle. The United States did not join that conflict, so he did not end up going to war.
When he returned to California, he discovered that he had had enough credits to graduate high school, so he started college at Southern Methodist University, where he got a degree in math. The one great regret of his life was that he had not pursued his true interest of agriculture. He got a Master’s degree at Stanford, then a PhD in math from UC-Berkeley. Later, when the Unabomber was sending his letters, John became quite convinced (correctly, it turned out) that the Unabomber had to have been part of the UC-Berkeley Math Department. When he turned out to have been correct, he couldn’t explain how he knew, and that it was just a hunch he had.
John married Ann Huntsinger and moved to Los Alamos, NM, where he worked for the Los Alamos National Laboratory. They had three children, Leslie, Rachel, and David. They later divorced, and he married Angie Ortiz Garcia, and they had many happy years together. He was delighted to get his stepdaughter Angela along with Angie. John and Angie eventually moved to Espanola, NM, where he lived the rest of his life.
John loved to tell stories. One of his favorites was about the time that his family stopped briefly to visit his grandparents on the way to California, and they ended up playing a 24-hour poker game where it looked like no one was going to be speaking to each other at the end of it. He was very pleased that his brother Mickey had smoothed things over by reminding everyone of the importance of family. They had then run out of gas a couple of hundred miles later, and Mickey had to hitchhike to get gas.
He also liked the story of when he was mugged at knifepoint in Las Vegas, Nevada. The mugger told him not to turn around, but he was mad enough that he did so and saw the guy’s face. He was then convinced he saw the mugger everywhere. When he went to fly home, he got to his gate, and he was convinced the mugger was there. He went to airport security and asked what would happen if someone tried to bring a large knife through security. (This was a long time ago.) They asked for details, and when he explained, they got a group and went to the gate, where the guy tried to flee. The security guards grabbed him. He had bought a ticket on John’s flight, using John’s credit card. He also had over 50 credit cards from other people.
John loved to learn and see new things. One of the highlights of recent years was a trip he took to Israel and Palestine with his grandson Jeffrey, and he talked about all they had seen frequently. He had a prodigious memory, and he was especially well-versed on World War II. He knew more details about that war than many historians.
He loved to walk, and until his final illness, he walked for several hours every week. For many years, he explored the hills behind Espanola High School. In later years, he made many friends walking at the local tracks.
John will be remembered for his positive attitude. He was always able to see the good in situations. He will be remembered for his generosity. He was always willing to donate time and money to help people who needed it. Mostly, he will be remembered for trying to be kind. He tried to be kind to everyone, but in particular, people in difficult jobs who were often ignored by others, such as cashiers, waitresses, or front desk people. He always said, “It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.”
John Hayes died July 7, 2023, after a lengthy illness. He was preceded in death by his parents, Clayton and Modene (Childress) Hayes, his wife Angie (Ortiz) Hayes, his brother, Mickey Hayes, and his grandson, Robert Naranjo. He is survived by his sister, Joanne Brand, children Leslie Hayes (Dave Rich), Rachel Hayes (Ken Duncan), David Hayes (Suzanne Lewis), and Angela Romero. He is also survived by his grandchildren Jeffrey Naranjo, Jeremy Naranjo, Lily Robb, Emily Hayes-Rich, Nathan Hayes-Rich, Curtis Schaefer, and Rosie Schaefer, and great-grandson Robert Naranjo. He is survived by a very long list of friends whose lives were enriched by this remarkable man, including his long-time friend Gary Graham.
Despite many other accomplishments in his life, John’s biggest source of pride and joy in his life was his children and grandchildren. His fondest hope was that they would be happy and kind after he was gone.
There will be a Funeral Mass at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Santa Cruz, NM, at 11:00 am on Wednesday, July 19, 2023.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to Ambercare Hospice.
The family of John Hayes has entrusted the care of their loved one to DeVargas Funeral Home & Crematory of the beautiful Espanola Valley. www.devargasfuneral.com 505-747-7477