John came from along the street where I lived, so I knew of him from an early age as a neighbour. He was a couple of years older than me.
I came to know him as a public political figure when he led, having founded, the University for Derry Action Committee in 1965. The university campaign had a more profound effect on the politics of the North, particularly of Derry, than has generally been acknowledged.
The experience, I believe, was key to John's politics and, more specifically, to his involvement in and perspective on the civil rights movement.
A committee headed by the Master of Birbeck College, London, Sir John Lockwood, had delivered a report to Stormont recommending that the North's projected second university should be located in Coleraine rather than in Derry and that, as part of the same reorganisation, Magee College should be closed.
This was a double whammy to Derry interests and, perhaps just as important, to the city's sense of itself.
The issue could easily and accurately have been added to the long list of sectarian insults delivered to Derry by unionism. The response might have followed the standard pattern of nationalist protest against unionist arrogance. But, to a large extent at John's insistence, that aspect of the matter wasn't the most obtrusive.
I recall standing in a packed Guildhall Square listening to John speak in measured, angry tones about the denial of the university to Derry and to the roars of approval which came in response. It only struck me afterwards that he hadn't mentioned partition or sectarian discrimination at all but only, repeatedly, the interests of "our city".
He was flanked by Nationalist Party leader Eddie McAteer and local unionist strongman Major Gerry Glover.
The cross-community nature of the event wasn't entirely novel - there had been a strong, active labour movement in Derry in previous decades which could have claimed the same accolade. But the gathering, and John's keynote speech, represented a new political direction at the time. It might fairly be said to have prefigured the path John was to take across the following years of tears and turmoil.
John was a moderate man of the political centre. I was a Left-wing activist. We often disagreed, in terms which would be characterised these days as "robust". But I cannot recall any face-to-face rancour. In later years we got on well enough.
This had something to do with the fact that we came from the same neighbourhood. It's also that the rigid consistency of his views entitled him to respect.
You don't have to agree with his politics to acknowledge that few manage to hold steadily to their beliefs amid the rough hurly-burly of politics, and that John was one of these few
It has been observed more than once in the hours since his death that John was a great man for repeating himself.
The same phrases, the same emphasis, the same argument. Some, understandably, affected a certain amusement at this quirk. "For god's sake, John, would you ever change the record..."
On the other hand, the main reason he was saying the same things was that he hadn't changed his mind, or felt a need to adapt his words to changing circumstances around him.
You don't have to agree with his politics to acknowledge that few manage to hold steadily to their beliefs amid the rough hurly-burly of politics, and that John was one of these few.
He will have been aware towards the end that the university issue continues to throb in Derry politics.
I think he would have been happy to know that the campaign to right that wrong hasn't abated. He'd be using the same words to say the same thing as he enunciated in Guildhall Square all those political lifetimes ago.
John changed a great deal by never changing himself.