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John C. Markowicz, a naval officer and leader in the region’s economic development efforts and the fight to save the Naval Submarine Base from closure, died Friday of brain cancer.
Markowicz, 68, was a fixture in economic development circles in southeastern Connecticut in several capacities, including serving as executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region (SeCTer).
In 2005, Markowicz chaired the local Subase Realignment Coalition in battling the Pentagon’s proposal to close the sub base. The federal Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC) eventually removed the Groton base from the closure list.
Several local officials who worked with Markowicz on the effort to reverse the base closure recommendation credited his leadership and tenacity for the success.
“He was the glue that held it together,” said Denny Hicks, a coalition member and fellow Waterford resident. “He had been through it two times before. We were the novices and he was the one who planned the strategy and chaired the group in saving the sub base.”
“The entire region owes John a huge debt of gratitude for the work he did on the sub base,” said Tony Sheridan, former Waterford first selectman and current president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. Sheridan recalled being in a room with Markowicz, then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell and then-U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman when the Pentagon’s recommendation to close the Groton sub base was announced.
“We were shocked,” Sheridan said. “John was great at harnessing the local energy to keep up the fight on the home front.”
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons said the group at that meeting in Markowicz’s office at SeCTer was “stunned,” but within minutes — the time it took to walk across the street to a press conference — they became resolved to fight and to win.
“The thing I remember most about John was his tenacious ability to focus all of his energies on the problem at hand and to bring his background and experience to bear in a very concise fashion.”
On Aug. 24, 2005, the group celebrated victory at the Hampton Inn in Groton, when the BRAC Commission voted 7-1 to spare the Groton base.
But Markowicz and others did not stop working on efforts to keep the Groton sub base open. The state congressional delegation won support for $150 million in infrastructure investment in the sub base since 2005 to better position the base.
Connecticut became the first state to fully fund a construction project on a defense base, with $7.6 million in construction improvements in 2009.
“He played a very, very critical role in formulating a defense for the region not to downsize or realign the sub base,” said Mark Oefinger, chairman of the SeCTer board of directors and Groton’s town manager. “I can’t speak enough about the role that John played during those various defenses.”
State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, a member of the coalition, credited Markowicz with lobbying for improvements to the base to help protect it from future possible closure.
“He made it clear to the Navy that these are assets you don’t throw away,” Stillman said. “Because of his contacts in Washington through his Navy career, he knew what would make the base more attractive. He really led the way in reinforcing the importance of the sub base to the region.”
The Groton base has a $4.5 billion annual economic impact on the state’s economy.
Markowicz attended his final coalition meeting nearly a year ago at the conference center at Fort Trumbull when members speculated on a possible future base closing process. After the meeting, Markowicz said he was pleased to see many of the people who had worked to save the base still active, but he couldn’t be sure their efforts to improve the base would help it to survive a future BRAC process.
Stillman and others acknowledged that Markowicz could be difficult and demanding at times, but she said that trait was necessary in dealing with the sub base and other economic development efforts. His attention to detail was essential to the success, she said.
“He was at times almost a bulldog,” Stillman said. “He wanted to make sure things were done properly and there was clarity of purpose. He cared very much for this region. When you worked on a project with John, you always felt it was in good hands.”
A career in Navy, beyond
Markowicz was born in Lynn, Mass., on March 4, 1944, and grew up in Salem, Mass. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1965 and launched a career in nuclear submarines, completing Nuclear Power School in Bainbridge, Md., prototype training in Windsor Locks, Conn., and the Naval Submarine School in Groton.
He rose to the rank of captain and earned several citations during his naval career. In 1976, he left active duty service and continued his naval service through the Naval Reserve. He participated in and commanded several Reserve units before retiring after 34 years of honorable service.
In 1976, Markowicz joined David and Muriel Hinkle at the defense contracting company Sonalysts Inc. and moved to Waterford. He became chief operations officer and saw the company grow from six employees to more than 400 with offices located throughout the country.
Markowicz left Sonalysts in 1994 and became involved in economic development efforts in southeastern Connecticut. He worked with Tech Conn and Sea Tech to stir business development throughout the region.
In 1997, he joined SeCTer, an organization he helped to found, and served as executive director until his illness forced him to step aside several months ago. His community service included membership to the Waterford Nuclear Advisory Board, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital Corporators, and the parish council of St. Joseph Church, where he was a longtime parishioner.
Markowicz was a member of the state Nuclear Energy Advisory Council and served as chairman from 2001 to 2005.
He is survived by his wife, Dolores “Laurie,” son John C. Markowicz Jr. and his family, and daughter Karen Lynn Noyes and her family.
Markowicz Jr. serves in the Navy, lives in Arlington, Va., and works at the Pentagon. He was selected for the rank of captain in September. Karen Lynn Noyes is a lieutenant commander in the Navy Nurse Corps.
Laurie Markowicz said Saturday that when she told her 91-year-old mother that John had died, her mother sighed and said, “Such a good person.”
“I can’t think of a better description,” she said of her late husband.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph Church in New London. A private entombment will be in St. Mary Cemetery. Calling hours will be held from 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at Byles Memorial Home, 99 Huntington St., New London.