Boats 06

John Oliver Harper

January 13, 1936 ~ May 2, 2021 (age 85)

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John Oliver Harper (nickname, Jigger) was born January 13, 1936 in Boston, MA to Helen Hayward Harper and Elmer Bruce Harper. Jigger was blessed with four older sisters, Jean, Barbara, Betty and Sally and an older brother Tom. His early years were spent in the Boston area, the family then moved to Cape Cod where Jigger’s love of sailing and boats began. He graduated from Harwich High School, and following family tradition, he was off to his beloved Dartmouth College (Class of 1957).

On the day he graduated from Dartmouth College in 1957, with a BA in Economics, Jigger was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Navy. He was excited to begin his Naval service after receiving an ROTC scholarship. In his first assignment, Jigger was stationed out of Long

Beach, California and served on the USS Preston (DD-795), a Fletcher-class destroyer. In December 1958, USS Preston assisted the fire-ravaged Japanese town of Keniya by providing food and clothing. Most of his years of service were on Far East deployments, and initiated a schedule of regular rotation between tours with the 7th Fleet in the western Pacific and 1st Fleet assignments.

While serving in the Navy, Jigger attended American University College of Law and eventually decided to retire from the Navy, and go into Private Law Practice. After several years of pri- vate practice, Jigger joined the team at Medical Advisory Systems (MAS) to provide land-to- sea medical assistance for merchant marine vessels around the world. His work for MAS took him on many trips throughout the ports of the world, including passing through the Panama Canal, and touring around Ibiza & Majorca. He retired from MAS in 2001, and began to spend his time performing more community service in his longstanding home of Alexandria, Virginia.

Jigger met the love of his life, Sally Dennice Zachary (Sally Z) at a keg party, called a “mid- week tension breaker,” with friends on Foxhall Road in Washington, DC. It was the winter of 1963, Jigger’s good friend from the Navy, Stewart Economou implored him to come along. Jigger & Sally Z met that night, the rest is history! After a three-year courtship, Sally & Jigger got married in a lovely ceremony at Graham Presbyterian Church in North Carolina on July 23, 1966. They had their first child, Barbara McBane Harper on June 12, 1968, then 18 months later their son John Oliver Harper Jr was born on January 7, 1970.

The Harper’s have called Alexandria, Virginia home since their marriage and are very active in their chosen community. Jigger was a member of the Alexandria Businessmen’s Club, Army Navy Country Club, Fraternal Order of Eagles 871, Washington Redskin season ticket holder (’64-’16) and Lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. He was an avid touring cyclist with Sally Z, and tennis player year round, “as long as the courts were dry” with his good friends TJ Fannon & Donald Simpson. This dedicated tennis group was affectionately dubbed the “Polar Bears,” often playing doubles outside in the middle of the winter.

Over the past decade and a half, Jigger volunteered at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, sharing his passion for boats, woodworking and mentoring the young men participating in their Apprentice Program. He was very enthusiastic when graduates would return to their floating wood shop on the Potomac, and share the many career successes as a result of the guidance from this amazing community organization.

In 2018, Jigger was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma and began aggressive treatments for this persistent form of cancer. For many years, Jigger fought the odds and continued to im- prove. He became an avid gardener, and garnered great pleasure propagating his backyard produce garden. On May 2, 2021, Jigger passed away peacefully in his sleep, after spending the prior day with his love, Sally Z.

Jigger is survived by his adoring wife, Sally Zachary Harper; devilishly handsome son, John Oliver Harper Jr.; eldest sister, Jean Homes (Phil); and many devoted nieces and nephews who called him, “Uncle Jigger.” He will be missed by them all. Jigger was preceded in death by three sisters (Barbara, Betty & Sally), his daughter, Barb and his brother, Tom.


Donations can be made in honor of John Oliver Harper to Alexandria Seaport Foundation at:

Alexandria Seaport Foundation

P.O. Box 25036
Alexandria, VA 22313


There will be a Celebration of Life party for Jigger Harper at a later time, location & date to be determined.

To send sympathy gifts to the family or plant a tree in memory of John Oliver Harper, please visit our tribute store.


Celebration of Life (at later date)


Alexandria Seaport Foundation
P.O. Box 25036, Alexandria VA 22313

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