June 30, 2021
Jack Gregory Downing
October 21, 1940 to June 27, 2021
Jack was born in Honolulu shortly before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. His father, a naval officer, survived the attack but was killed in action less than a year later. With his mother and sister, Jack then moved into his grandparents’ home in Texas where he grew up. He graduated from Harvard with a BA and MA, then joined the Marines, serving as an infantry lieutenant in a rifle company during the Vietnam war. After four years, Jack left the Marines on a Friday and began a career with the CIA on the following Monday. Over the course of 30 years in the Agency, Jack served in a number of overseas and Headquarters assignments, and was the only Agency officer to be Station chief in both Moscow and Beijing during the Cold War. He retired in 1995 but was asked to return in mid-1997 to become the CIA’s Deputy Director for Operations, in charge of worldwide espionage operations. Jack received a number of awards during his Agency career, including the Distinguished Intelligence Medal and the Director’s Medal. A decade after his second retirement he was called back to CIA Headquarters to receive the Trailblazer medal from then CIA Director Leon Panetta.
After retirement, Jack played a leading role, along with former CIA Director Richard Helms, in establishing the CIA Officer’s Memorial Foundation which solicits contributions from American private citizens and corporations to pay for the college education of the children of CIA officers who fall in the line of duty.
Jack regarded himself as a very lucky man and attributed his good fortune to the three women in his life — a generous and indomitable mother, who became a doyenne in the world of high fashion and who somehow balanced the demands of her work with sharing her love and wise counsel with her children; a loving, and adventurous wife who was with him every step of the way, from his college days in Cambridge to the back streets of Cold War Moscow where, although never a staff officer of the Agency, she was a full participant in high-risk espionage operations; and a caring and charitable sister — a true friend for life with whom he shared a fatherless and sometimes difficult Texas childhood.
Jack was proud of his service in the Marine Corps. In later years, some of his happiest occasions were the reunions of his cohort of Marine officers (the “Kaneohe Bay Marines” or “Pineapple Marines”) who, with no advance notice, were ordered from the paradise of Hawaii to the battlefields of Vietnam at the onset of America’s entry into the ground war there. From his college years he had a passion for the Russian and and Chinese languages, and for the history and literature of China which he was able to indulge during multiple assignments in China and the Soviet Union. He continued to be an enthusiastic student of Chinese until his 80th year.
Jack is predeceased by his mother and father and survived by his wife Suzanne (“Suzie”) of Portland, Oregon, his son John Gregory Downing (Christa Cullen) of Truckee, California, and his daughter Wendy Rogers Downing (Mike Cachuela) of Portland, Oregon, as well as three grandchildren, Emma Louise Downing, Jacob Edward Downing, and Josefina Benita Cachuela and his sister Roberta Lee (“Robbie”) Jurek of Austin, Texas.
The family has requested in lieu of flowers, please consider donations to the CIA Officers Memorial Foundation ciamemorialfoundation.org.