Obituary: John Horton Birely Dec. 11, 2021

John Horton Birely, 81, formerly of Los Alamos, NM, died December 11, 2021, in Oakland, CA.

John devoted his professional life to science, nuclear nonproliferation, and international security. Highlights of his 21-year career at University of California, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM and Washington, DC are as follows:

 Associate Vice President for Laboratory Management with the University of California Office of the President, Oakland, CA (2003-2009)

Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Cooperative Threat Reduction, The Pentagon, Washington, DC (1993-1994)

Acting Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Atomic Energy, the Pentagon, Washington, DC (1992 -1993.)

Deputy Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Nuclear Matters, the Pentagon, Washington, DC (1991-1992.)

He was Associate Director for Nuclear Weapons Technology from 1989-1991, and Deputy Laboratory Director from 1986-1989.

Prior to this he held the positions of Associate Director for Chemistry, Earth and Life Sciences, Deputy Division Leader of Chemistry and Materials Science, Group Leader for Laser Photo Chemistry and Isotope Separation.  After the collapse of the Soviet Union, John was instrumental in reigning in the Russian nuclear arsenal in Ukraine and made many trips to the region.

John was born in 1939 White Plains, NY to William and Katherine Birely.  He graduated from Harvard University 1966 with a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry. He held a Master of Science in Physical Chemistry from University of California, Berkeley, and an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Yale University. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Physical Chemistry at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, England (1966–1967,) and was Assistant Professor, Department of Chemistry at the University of California, Los Angeles, CA (1967-1969.)

John was known for his immense integrity and intelligence. He was a stoic person, more so in his later years, but was deeply emotionally moved by so many things.  Music such as a Bach fugue or a sweet ukulele song could bring a tear to his eye. In his younger years, he had a passion for flying.  He owned a Cessna 182 Turbo plane which he volunteered along with his time to Angel Flights which provided free transportation in response to healthcare and other compelling human needs from 1988 to 2010. He was awarded the Angel Flight West Northern California Wing Distinguished Pilot Award in 2006, 2007 and 2008, and the same award for New Mexico in 2001 and 2002. He was also a pilot for the Civil Air Patrol from 1980-2004.

John won many other distinguished awards including the Department of Defense Medal for Outstanding Public Service in 1996 and 1994, and the Department of Defense Medal for Distinguish Civilian Service in 1983.

John was preceded in death by his only brother, Bill.  John adopted his brother’s infant son, Paul, and devoted much love and effort to his upbringing.

John is survived by his son, Paul, and grandson, Juelz.  His memory will be held lovingly by many friends and colleagues.

One of John’s favorite songs was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children Well,” and the lines that most spoke to him were ‘You who are on the road must have a code that you can live by. And so, become yourself, because the past is just a goodbye.’  John had a code, an honorable one, and live by it he did.