In Memorian: John Herlitz
I was deeply saddened to learn about the passing of John Herlitz on March 24th, 2008. I’m sure most of you have already heard or read many of the articles in the press about the legendary retired Chrysler designer’s recent death. All the major news outlets have journaled his career and accomplishments upon his passing but none really spoke about the type of person he was more than what he did.
I was blessed to have met and studied under John Herlitz while I was a student at CIA. Back in the early 90’s Chrysler sponsored a semester project for our transportation class. Every Saturday two of Chrysler’s designers would drive down to Cleveland from Detroit to teach us and review our work. Every project culminated with a final review in which John Herlitz would visit and critique our work. In the course of our studies and experience we often met several “high-ranking” automotive executives. While each was very cordial and professional in their own way, none had the charisma and charm of John Herlitz.
John Herlitz was the type of man who instantly made those around him feel comfortable. Despite his hefty corporate stature and legendary past experience he never once carried himself above those in his company. I always respected and admired the fact that one of Chrysler’s best designers and VP of Design would joke and hang around with 19 to 20 year old students as though we were equals. He was a man of hard work and humility. John always had a smile and a friendly word of encouragement. He was eager to offer his guidance and criticism to help us achieve our goals but did so in an almost big-brotherly way. He was quick to wit and joke too. I remember a particular critique where John was reviewing my sketches and jokingly commented that one design looked as though a 800 pound gorilla had sat on it! I was always at ease when he reviewed our projects due to such good natured ribbing but I always had a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for anything he had to say.
John Herlitz was always more of the friendly neighbor next door than a Big 3 top dog. I always wanted to work with such an incredible man but I unfortunately never had the chance. Despite never having had the opportunity to design with him at Chrysler I will always fondly remember the times he mentored myself and our class. It saddens me to know that the world will no longer have him here smiling and inspiring the people he meets but I take solace in the knowledge that John had a lifetime of teaching and inspiring others to greatness. What better legacy to leave the world than being the shining example by which other designers strive to meet each day?
I can just imagine John doing burnouts in a Cuda with St. Peter riding shotgun in a cloud of burnt rubber and smoke. I hope heaven has no speed limits. Farewell my friend!
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