John Frederick Bitzer Jr. died in his sleep, with family at his side, on March 18, 2020, near his home in Fort Worth, Tex. He was 83, and proud of the fact that he had lived in 10 different decades during his life. His death was due to complications from congestive heart failure.

John was born July 5, 1936 in Hartford, Connecticut, eventually the oldest of three children after his sisters Katrina and Polly were born. He attended high school at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he started on the varsity basketball team his junior and senior years. John’s education continued at Harvard University. He then transferred to the University of Southern California where he received a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree.

Along the way, John met and married Mary Adams “Mimi” Bitzer with whom he had three children: Elizabeth, known as Polly; John and Charles. In 1987 the grandchildren started coming, 14 in all by 2004. Then came his first great-grandchild in 2013. Papa, as he was called, took great joy in all these children, and he did his best to mentor each and every one of them. They will miss him greatly.

John’s beloved Mimi passed away in 2004 after a long battle with cancer. He was fortunate to find love again when he met and married Mary Ella Gabler of Dallas in 2007. She had two sons and six grandchildren of her own, making John’s already extensive clan even larger, much to his delight. John lost his daughter Polly, also to cancer, in 2018. More than anything in the whole world, “Papa” deeply loved his family.

John Bitzer Jr.’s career began at Avery Products in southern California, before he joined his father-in-law’s business, ABARTA, and began running the company’s Coca-Cola soft drink operation in southwestern Pennsylvania. John built the beverage business through the acquisition of additional territory in Cleveland, Buffalo, New York and Chester County, Penn. and was named first president of the firm, then chairman and chief executive officer until his retirement in 1999. John was an inspiring, determined leader whose strengths were strategy, finance, and building healthy cultures.

John also strongly believed in giving back to the community, serving on the Pittsburgh City Planning Commission, the National Arthritis Foundation board, the Heinz History Center board of trustees and the board of the Vineyard Environmental Research Institute, among other trusteeships.

He was a man of principles, values, and passions who supported private education, patient-centered functional medicine, and entrepreneurship. He was a founding member of the Family Enterprise Center (now the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence) at the University of Pittsburgh; for a number of years he taught an MBA class at U.S.C. on best practices for family businesses and he often spoke to groups about multigenerational family business topics. His other passions included sports of all kinds, especially his U.S.C. Trojan football team. He enjoyed all three major pro teams in Pittsburgh—The Steelers, Pirates and Penguins. From his days growing up in Hartford, he was a diehard Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics fan. Ted Williams was his childhood hero. In retirement he got into the thoroughbred horse racing business. He enjoyed golf, reading, travel, history, as well as studying and investing in the market—he even put out his own investment newsletter to family and friends.

John’s family home on Martha’s Vineyard was his favorite place to be every summer since 1972. His first home was in Katama, just off the bay and close to South Beach. His second home was in Edgartown, close to the entrance of Eel Pond. He would host family and friends there all summer long, but his favorite time was September after the crowds had gone. His home on Pine Cay, Turks & Caicos, was his favorite place to be every winter since 1986.

John is survived by his wife Mary Ella, his sisters Katrina and Polly, his stepsister Gail, his two sons John and Charlie, his two stepsons Jason and Josh, his 14 grandchildren, six step-grandchildren and one great-grandson. The family would like to thank Sherry Clark, John’s nurse, for her wonderful care, and Shelley Bitzer, his daughter-in-law, for her tireless guidance, and for keeping her promise to Mimi.

Memorial service information will be forthcoming. Memorial contributions can be made to the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, P.O. Box 1088, 57 David Avenue, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568: