Family and colleagues of John Nicholas Meisten III said he handled one of the highest-profile cases of his distinguished FBI career the same way he handled everything — with drive and careful attention to detail.
In 1981, the Long Island native oversaw the criminal investigation into John Hinckley Jr.’s attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan. Longtime friend and now-retired FBI Special Agent Jim Mull said Meisten “was very, very diligent” in pursuing details surrounding the case.
Mull recalled one day suggesting to Meisten that he start a filing system to organize the case’s details and, much to his surprise, he had already done so.
“I was really impressed with what he put together,” Mull said. “He was very much an organizational person.”
Meisten died June 30 at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center in Cincinnati after an eight-year battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He was 76.
Meisten was born May 31, 1942, in Rockville Centre. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in economics and philosophy. In 1971, he received a master of science degree in education management from the University of Southern California.
Yet Meisten’s path led him to a different field—law enforcement.
After serving as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force, Meisten, following a childhood dream, enrolled in the FBI in September 1971, first working as a special agent assigned to the bureau’s Denver division. It was in training school that Meisten met Mull.
Mull, 76, a retired special agent from Vienna, Virginia, said he remembered Meisten as “very smart and very social,” always comfortable talking to people on cases.
“John was the kind of guy who when he had a friend, he kept them for life,” Mull said.
Family and colleagues described Meisten as a well-respected counterintelligence supervisor who oversaw a number of successful investigations of KGB espionage.
Nancy Savage, executive director of The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, a fraternal group, credited Meisten with a successful redesign of the FBI’s Special Agent Selection System,calling him “a well-known and much-admired member” of the group.
Meisten finished his FBI career as an instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, retiring in 1994.
Friends and family said Meisten, an avid boater, loved to spend time sailing, woodworking, riding motorcycles and camping. While he worked in many parts of the country, Meisten often visited Long Island to see family he still had in the area, and shared stories with his children about his old haunts. .
“The values he gained from the people and culture in Long Island never left him, and he had an instant affinity for New Yorkers. always,” his daughter, Deborah Meisten Nagarajan, said.
Meisten is survived by his wife, Catherine Ann Layne Meisten of Boothbay, Maine, daughter Kimberly Doreen Meisten of Maple Grove, Minnesota, and Nagarajan, who lives in Cincinnati with her husband Raj Nagarajan and son Nicholas Nagarajan.
A funeral will be held at Arlington National Cemetery at a date to be determined, the family said.