John Martin McGough, Columbia resident who did social work, dies

John McGough was a Columbia resident who did social work.
John McGough was a Columbia resident who did social work.(HANDOUT)

John Martin McGough, an early resident of Columbia and longtime employee of both juvenile and adult criminal justice branches, died June 8 at his home in Columbia of an apparent heart attack. He was 85.

Mr. McGough was born John Martin Pierson in Hartford, Conn. He was adopted by John and Elizabeth McGough of Holyoke Massachusetts as a baby. His birth mother was Edna A. Pierson.


Mr. McGough was raised in Holyoke. And he struggled at times as a result of his adoption, according to his daughter, Genevieve Elizabeth McCardell.

"He had a very difficult childhood," Mrs. McCardell said.


Mr. McGough attended high school at Mount Saint Charles Academy, a boarding school in Woonsocket, R.I., where he played ice hockey.

"The priests there were very instrumental in his formative years," Mrs. McCardell said.

It was this positive interaction that strengthened his faith as a Catholic, and directed him into social work.

"I think he had a lot of insight to how important it was to have good moral character," said Mrs. McCardell, who followed in her father's footsteps and works as a probation officer for the Department of Juvenile Services in Howard County. "You could withstand a lot if you held onto your faith. He always said 'It's important to do the right thing even if it wasn't the easy thing.' Even though he had a rough beginning, he was very strong in his faith and was a very moral person."

Mr. McGough received a bachelor's degree from St. Michael's College in Vermont. He also served in the U.S. Army for three years during the Korean War, where he worked stateside in psychiatric hospitals where soldiers returned from combat.

"My dad would tell stories about having to administer shock therapy to soldiers who were suffering from the emotional toll of war," Mrs. McCardell recalled.

In 1956 in Holyoke, Mr. McGough met his future wife, the former Kristine Marie Cantin, through his cousin, Bernard McGough.

"My Mother was going to Holyoke Community College and my father's cousin was going there as well," Mrs. McCardell said. "He told him that there was this really nice girl he wanted to tell him about."

The two instantly hit it off and were married a year later.

"It was pretty speedy," Mrs. McCardell said. "The two actually grew up in the same town but never met each other before that."

The newlyweds lived near Boston so Mr. McGough could attend graduate school at Boston College. He also was a social worker at Walpole Penitentiary during that time.

In 1959, the couple moved to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where he began to work for the federal government. A year later, their first daughter, Genevieve Elizabeth, was born.


In 1961 the family moved to Lewisburg, Pa., where Mr. McGough started to work for the Lewisburg Penitentiary as a social worker.

In 1965, Mr. McGough took a job as a probation officer with the District of Columbia Superior Court. This resulted in another move, this time to Lewisdale, in Prince George's County.

Mr. McGough completed a master's degree at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland College Park.

It was around this time that Mr. McGough became friends with next door neighbor Lew Sichelman.

"We had little children together," Mr. Sichelman said. "We played Canasta a lot at night. We just became close."

Mr. Sichelman said Mr. McGough and his family helped him through a divorce and custody battle.

"I was lost. They fed me and made me feel loved and wanted," he said.

It was Mr. Sichelman, a former real estate editor at the now-closed Washington Star, who told Mr. McGough about a new town that was being built in Howard County called Columbia.

"We remained telephone close and visited at least twice a year," said Mr. Sichelman, who now lives in Chesapeake Beach in Calvert County.

"I talked to John just a few weeks ago," he said. "We both discussed our various illnesses as old people tend to do. He was happy to be alive and working through his stuff. I've been wanting to go visit him. But obviously I didn't visit him in time, which is a great regret of mine."

Mr. McGough and his family fell in love with the concept of Columbia shortly after moving there in 1971. He lived in the same home in the Stevens Forest neighborhood until his death, according to his daughter.

Although he retired from the federal government in the late 1980s, he continued to work for various youth detention centers and programs.

"He was able to really put his heart in it," Mrs. McCardell said.

In 1993, his first wife died of lung cancer. By then, he was fully retired. He then began to do volunteer work. He also became very involved with his church, St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Columbia.

Love struck Mr. McGough a second time when he met the future Alice Veronica McGough. The two married in 2002.

"He loved my mom. And he loved Alice too," Mrs. McCardell said.

Mr. McGough was a lifelong fan of history and an avid sports fan. He loved college athletics, especially his alma mater, "St. Mike's." He also had an affinity for the Baltimore Ravens.

"He was a funny guy. He was a trip," Mrs. McCardell said. "He was a good guy. He was a very strong-willed person."

In addition to his daughter and his wife, Mr. McGough is survived by another daughter, Amy Marie McGough of Bowling Green, Ky; and three grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 10431 Twin Rivers Road, in Columbia.

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