An innovative engineer, John Heaviside was credited with developing an electronic nautical compass in the 1970s that helped mariners more precisely plot their trips.

He also was accomplished outside the workplace, passionately tackling pursuits such as restoring boats, playing trombone and running marathons, according to friends and family.

"He never had hobbies, he had serial obsessions," said Katherine Heaviside, his wife of 50 years.

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John "Jack" Heaviside, longtime resident of Huntington Bay, died Friday of cancer. He was 84.

In his earlier years, Heaviside spent evenings and weekends in his yard, laboriously scraping down the sides of classic wooden sailboats he lovingly restored with fresh varnish.

Decades later, he might have been found playing the trombone with his Dixieland band at events all over Long Island or running in a marathon -- he completed 13 of them -- winning medals for his age class.

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John Burroughs Heaviside was born in Brooklyn on Jan. 19, 1931, the only child of Henry and Anne Heaviside.

During the Great Depression, the family moved around often, renting homes in Brooklyn and Queens. Heaviside graduated from the former Andrew Jackson High School in Cambria Heights, Queens. Inspired by Big Band music, he began to play the trombone and earned admission to the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan.

"He was always fond of saying he was the best trombonist in his high school and in the New York area. And then he went to Juilliard and found out that there were trombonists from Minnesota who were much better," Katherine Heaviside said.


In 1950, he left Juilliard to enlist in the Navy during the Korean War and served as a radio technician on a fleet in the Atlantic Ocean. With the engineering education he gained in the service, Heaviside began civilian life as an electronics technician.

In the 1960s and '70s, he worked as an electronics engineer at North Atlantic Industries, based in Bohemia, eventually becoming vice president, and directed several smaller projects for NASA.

He acquired several patents, among them for the design of an electronic nautical compass with a digital display known as the Helms-Mate. Heaviside became president of the Helms-Mate division of North Atlantic Industries, which built and marketed the product for large sailboats and motor yachts.

He became a serious runner in his late 40s -- competing in the New York City and Boston marathons -- and was known to run from his Huntington Bay house to his office in Hauppauge, about a 16-mile trip.

Gary Muhrcke, a friend and former owner of the Super Runner's Shop in Huntington, called Heaviside "a mentor to us all." "He trained so hard," Muhrcke said. "When he got into something, he really got into it and he was good at it."

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After retiring from the electronics business, he joined his wife's company, Epoch 5 Public Relations, as vice president overseeing and modernizing the firm's legal and financial operations.

In his 60s, he retired once again, this time picking up his trombone -- which had sat idle in a closet for 35 years. He took lessons from a trombonist with the Metropolitan Opera orchestra and joined several regional symphony orchestras, sometimes rehearsing five nights per week. In his 70s, he founded "Not Just a Dixieland Band" and played at festivals and events on Long Island.

Other survivors include five children, Linda Heaviside of Decatur, Georgia; Douglas Heaviside of Newport Beach, California, John B. Heaviside III of Lynnwood, Washington; Paul Heaviside of Northport; and Laurel Moynihan of Cold Spring Harbor; and seven grandchildren.

A memorial visitation will be held 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home in Northport.