John N. Childs Jr., 91, of metal-cleaning firm

John Norris Childs Jr. worked on the cleaning of City Hall tower.
John Norris Childs Jr. worked on the cleaning of City Hall tower.
Posted: June 26, 2014

John Norris Childs Jr., 91, of Wyndmoor and Philadelphia, a Navy veteran, businessman, and volunteer, died Wednesday, June 11, of dementia at the Falls Center, Hospice of Philadelphia.

Mr. Childs was an owner and a vice president of Metalweld Inc., a company that did heavy industrial cleaning and maintenance of metal in the region and across the country. It started in East Falls and later moved to Oaks.

Among the projects Mr. Childs worked on was the 1987 cleaning of the William Penn statue atop the City Hall tower. His company cleaned the bronze surface with what was then a new process - water sprayed at a very high pressure - intended to quickly remove corrosion without damaging the metal.

"He was really excited to be up there," said his daughter Carla Childs. "It was really high. He wished they were able to do the other statues, but the contract was only for one."

Known as "Jack," Mr. Childs was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where his American father was working on an engineering project. Returning Stateside with his family, he spent his childhood in Meadowbrook, Montgomery County, and vacations in Annapolis, Md.

He received his education at Meadowbrook School, Germantown Friends School, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he received a degree in electrical engineering in 1944. After graduating, he served in the Navy during World War II.

An oral history compiled by grandson Richard Cozzens tells how Mr. Childs went to Officer Candidate School under a hurried 60-day training schedule, then deployed to the MIT Radiation Laboratory in Boston.

"He and his classmates called themselves the Boston Subway Navy because they rode the subway to work," Cozzens wrote.

Mr. Childs invented a control system that prevented missiles on the big guns mounted on battleships from jamming. His apparatus for radio control of guided missiles was patented March 11, 1958, under his name.

After the war, he went to work, raised a family, and attended classes at Temple University, receiving a master's degree in medieval history in 1963. "He was an extremely well-read person," his daughter said.

He and his wife, Virginia Price Childs, lived in Wyndmoor and Mount Airy. In 2005, they moved from Mount Airy to Stapeley Hall in Germantown (now Wesley Enhanced Living at Stapeley). She died in 2012.

Mr. Childs served on the boards of the Grandom Institution, which gives grants for heating fuel; Awbury Arboretum; Stapeley; Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and Friends Fiduciary, a philanthropic arm of the Society of Friends.

He was active on many committees of Germantown Friends, and served as treasurer, a trustee, a property committee member, and a teacher of First Day School at the Germantown Monthly Meeting.

He is remembered for his interest in genealogy, his pride in his family, and his zest for pineapple upside-down cake.

Surviving, besides his daughter, are sons Norris and Daniel; another daughter, Marion; 11 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 23, at the Germantown Monthly Meeting, 47 W. Coulter St., Philadelphia 19144. Interment is private.

Donations may be made to Germantown Friends School via, or the Germantown Monthly Meeting at the address above.


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