WHEN he was editor of The Christian Science Monitor, DeWitt John would literally design each day's front page with both hands. He would shift a red grease pencil from left hand to right and back again with unassuming ambidexterity as the day's dispatches were assigned to the columns of the Monitor. This versatility, both comfortable and brisk, symbolized, in its modest way, a person and a professionalism commanding uncommon energy, equanimity, and per-spective.
It was a remarkable devotion to the Church of Christ, Scientist -- to its newspaper, its religious periodicals, to its progress as a pioneering religious denomination -- that DeWitt's friends and colleagues valued last week when news of his passing, while on vacation in Europe, reached Boston.
He was editor of this newspaper for six years, from 1964 to 1970. He was editor of The Christian Science Journal and Sentinel and The Herald of Christian Science for three years. He was a member of The Christian Science Board of Directors for 10 years. He worked as writer, radio, and television producer, division head, assistant manager and manager of the church's Committee on Publication for 15 years.
He joined the church just before high school, took an undergraduate degree from Principia College and graduate degrees from both the University of Chicago and Columbia, and served as a Navy officer during World War II.
In 1958, he was publicly listed as a Christian Science practitioner -- the full-time healing ministry of the Christian Science Church -- and became a teacher of Christian Science in 1964.
While DeWitt himself was a respecter of chronologies, especially if they illustrated human progress out of limitation, he often warned against settling for superficialities.
Once, in a letter to an author who had charged that Christian Scientists were reluctant to be part of any dialogue with the world, DeWitt pointed to the Monitor's longstanding interest in what he termed ``the ecumenical ideal.'' Then, citing Christian Scientists' interest in society's deepest needs, he wrote:
``Like any other intelligent people, Christian Scientists know that material prosperity may be a sign of greed, ruthlessness, and gross materialism. They do not regard either material wealth or physical health as proof of `divine favor,' since either of these conditions may be an indication of material-mindedness rather than of obedience to divine law.''
Just a year earlier, in his book ``The Christian Science Way of Life,'' DeWitt had written: ``Only a sense of meaning in life can rally the full resources of the human spirit. It is deep convictions regarding the nature of man, of truth, of the origin of human rights and the nature of human destiny, that move men and nations to superhuman achievements.''
He added: ``Rebirth of those healing elements nearest the heart of Christianity and of other great religions, and their demonstration in practical life, is the need of today.''
And so it was in his experience, whether building his own house by hand in the woods of Lincoln, Massachusetts, rafting down the Colorado River, or quietly encouraging a young Sunday School pupil or an aspiring newspaper reporter, DeWitt John, through prayer and with modesty, was always willing to do whatever needed to be done. His was a generous spirit that inspired a great many lives.
Robert Nelson was national news editor under DeWitt John and is now the Monitor's feature editor.