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In Memory . . . John Nicholls Booth (1929-2009)

Posted By Jessica Cambio, Thursday, May 13, 2010

The death of the Reverend John Nicholls Booth died on Wednesday, November 11, 2009, at the age of 97. Rev. Booth was born on August 7, 1912, in Meadville, PA, to Sydney Scott Booth and Margaret Nicholls Booth. He graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1934 and Meadville Theological School in 1942. His thesis, The Quest for Preaching Power, was published by Macmillan Company. In 1950, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters from New England Law School.

In 1942, he began more than 30 years of ministry with a call to serve the Unitarian Church of Evanston, IL. He was subsequently called to the First Church of Belmont, MA; the Second Church in Boston, MA; and the UU Church of Long Beach, CA. He served as Interim at the UU Fellowship of Gainesville, FL, and the First UU Church in Detroit, MI. While in Evanston, Rev. Booth authored a 39-page pamphlet, "Introducing Unitarianism” which he updated after the merger as "Introducing Unitarian Universalism.” These pamphlets were in print for several decades.

Rev. Booth was also a professional magician, journalist, author, film producer, public speaker, and a world traveler. On sabbatical in 1948,

Rev. Booth served as Asiatic Correspondent for the Chicago Sun-Times, also representing the Christian Register on that trip. He interviewed and photographed the prime ministers of Japan, China, Thailand, and India; the governors of Hong Kong and Singapore; and the president and three former presidents of the Philippines. He described his travels in the book, Fabulous Destinations, which became a Travel Book of the Month Club #1 selection. In later years he would also write for the Boston Globe, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and the Encyclopedia Britannica Book of the Year.

During vacations from ministry, Rev. Booth produced eight documentary films, traveling to Africa, Asia, South America, Britain, and Spain as well as throughout the US. In the US, he filmed "The Amazing America of Will Rogers,” a biographical study of the humorist. Most of these films were presented by Rev. Booth at lecture tours he conducted in venues like Hancock Hall in Boston, Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburg, and Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre, among others. His series of talks called "Looking at Life,” which dealt with philosophical, psychological, and spiritual problems, were televised on WBKB in Chicago in the 1940’s, a first by clergy in the United States.

Rev. Booth’s magic career began before his ministry and continued throughout those years and beyond. He was a well-respected mentor to others in the field. He wrote several classical books on magic, including Forging Ahead in Magic and Marvels of Mystery. In total, he published 19 books and hundreds of articles on topics as varied as conjuring, homiletics, history, and travel.

Rev. Booth is survived by his daughter, Barbara Booth Christie, of Wilbraham, MA, two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. His wife, Edith, died in 1982 after 40 years of marriage.

Services of remembrance were held at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Long Beach, CA, and the Adventurer’s Club in Los Angeles, CA. Additionally, a Broken Wand Ceremony took place at his Magic Ring 96.

Please send messages of condolence to Barbara Booth Christie, P.O. Box 55, Wilbraham, MA 01095-0055.

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