John Grula, a retired research scientist, volunteer and columnist for the Pasadena Weekly since 2008, died at his home in Pasadena on April 3.
Grula was 67. The cause of death was not immediately known.
A spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner said a toxicological report has not yet been released and a cause of death may not be known for another month.
Louis Santilena, who was Grula’s friend for 25 years and in recent years shared a byline with him on his column, PowerPoint, said that Grula, a stellar athlete in high school and college, suffered painful back problems that appeared to intensify in the past few years. He remembered that Grula told him on March 17 that he was admitted to the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Los Angeles, suffering from pneumonia. Santilena was then told by a hospital social worker that Grula had been sent home to Pasadena by cab on March 20.
The last time they talked was on March 28, when Santilena told Grula over the phone to get in touch with his visiting nurse. On April 3, Santilena said he got a call from a mutual friend who said she was told by Pasadena police that Grula’s body was found in his apartment on East Villa Street by his landlady.
“JG had a rough time over the past couple of years,” Santilena said. “If you did not see him regularly and see the way he struggled, you never would have guessed he was in such pain.”
Sometimes, Santilena said, Grula’s back pain “was so bad that he couldn’t walk without assistance.”
According to his obituary, appearing on Legacy.com, Grula was born in West Lafayette, Indiana on Aug. 14, 1952 to Edward and Mary (Muedeking) Grula. A graduate of Stillwater (Oklahoma) High School in 1970, he earned a bachelor of science degree in biology from Oklahoma State University, where he was a member of both the varsity men’s swim program and the cross-country team.
Grula completed his PhD in systematics and ecology from the University of Kansas in 1978. According to his obituary, he went to work the following year as a research scientist at Caltech’s Kerckhoff Marine Labs in Corona del Mar. His research involved gene expression and control. He later joined Phytogen Corp. in Pasadena, researching photosynthesis. Subsequently, he assumed a position at the Carnegie Observatory in Pasadena as librarian and astro-biologist, where he remained until his retirement, according to the obit.
Along with his many columns for the Pasadena Weekly, Grula had articles published in numerous scientific journals throughout his career, and held several US patents. He was also an active and passionate volunteer for many organizations, including the Audubon Society, Big Brothers and Sisters, the Southern California Federation of Scientists, the California Democratic Party, and others, according to the Legacy obituary. In 1992, he ran as a Democratic candidate for Congress, but lost in the primary, Santilena said.
His columns for the Pasadena Weekly focused on the environment, global warming, nuclear proliferation, nuclear power, public utilities, fracking, politics, public policy and social justice, among other things. An avid birder and nature lover, Grula enjoyed music and appeared happiest when outdoors. He was also an active member of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena.
“Like his obit indicates, he was an avid birder and he took me on a few local birding treks (he abhorred long-distance travel),” his former girlfriend Lynda Obershaw wrote in an email. Obershaw had 10 trees planted in Grula’s memory.
“He also bought me the latest Western Guide to Birds/Guide to Western Birds … and a pair of binoculars. He was extremely kind and generous in that respect. He took me places I’d never been before (right around here!),” she wrote.
Predeceased by his parents, Grula is survived by siblings Marjori, Tom and Lorraine, as well as nieces Ondrea Keith, Cara Grula and Courtney Grula.
Memorials may be made to either the Edward A. or Mary M. Grula Distinguished Graduate Fellowship or the Grula lectureship, both at Oklahoma State University, in care of the OSU Foundation, PO Box 1749, Stillwater, Oklahoma, 74076. Checks should be made payable to The OSU Foundation. Alternately, you may go online at https://www.osugiving.com/discover?q=grula.
Funeral arrangements were made by Cabot and Sons of Pasadena.
“I hope those trees I donated attract LOTS of birds,” Obershaw wrote.