Life Story: Camano Island minister Jack Mote marched with Martin Luther King Jr.

Jack Mote took a stance on his pacifist beliefs at the start of World War II when he declared himself to be a conscientious objector. He ended up serving his country and he entered the ministry after the war.

He marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala., to advance the cause of civil rights. Mote worked to improve the lives of inner city children and took his daughters to Vietnam peace marches in Washington D.C.

“I was so proud of my Dad,” said his daughter, Debbie Rice. “He should have been president.”

The Rev. John Anson “Jack” Mote, 91, who lived on Camano Island, died Oct. 4 from pancreatic cancer. He was born Jan. 18, 1920.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Maxine Raines Mote; three daughters, Deborah Rice, Karen Wilson and Susan Smith; and three Smith grandchildren, Joshua, Laura and Benjamin. In addition to his immediate family, the people with whom he shared a deep and abiding love include Debbie’s husband, Barry; Karen’s husband, Richard; Jack’s only surviving sibling, Dwight, and his wife, Jane; sisters-in law, Edna, Nancy and Corky; brother-in-law, Horace; and 19 nieces and nephews.

Jack Mote’s father, Sharon Roscoe Mote, was a superintendant at schools for American Indian students in the West and Midwest. Jack Mote was born in Piqua, Ohio, one of six children.

During his childhood in the Great Depression, his mother, Mary Gearhart Mote, served rice with salt and butter, or a can of tuna or salmon, for dinner. One Christmas the children shared the gift of a used bicycle.

Mote was the lead singer and a ukulele player as a boy in a cowboy band, “The Roosevelt Rangers,” Rice said. They got a weekly spot on radio station WKYR where they were paid with cinnamon buns.

“He began to receive fan mail but confessed that he would have preferred to be known for his quick-draw talent that he learned from watching Ken Maynard, his favorite movie star,” Rice said. “A male quartet in which Dad sang second tenor in high school placed first in a North Dakota competition.”

When he registered as a conscientious objector after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mote recieved a letter from his father reading: “You have missed a great point that means everything. You have felt the beauty of God’s ideals for mankind toward which he wants us all to strive. But too often I have seen uncontrolled emotion and religious fervor carry people into the realm of unreality. If we win this war, you can do much to prevent future wars. If we lose this war, your ideals will do you and everybody else no good.”

An FBI investigation concluded that Mote was sincere in his opposition to the war.

Her father did not think that those who chose to fight were terrible people, Rice said.

“He believed that those who gave their lives to fight for what they believed deserved to be honored,” she said. “However, he fervently felt that wars perpetuate hatred.”

Eventually Mote was inducted into the Army where he received a Good Conduct Medal and a promotion to private first class. Mote graduated from Western Maryland College after the war and did relief work in France. He completed studies at Duke Theological Seminary and began his ministry at Calvary Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.

The Mote family enjoyed camping, family vacations around the country, music, art, drama and humor. He helped organize family reunions that included skits and games.

“He did a wonderful impression of Stanley Laurel and sewed his own clown costume,” his daughter said.

Deeply committed to civil rights, Mote integrated Brookland United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., where African American neighbors had previously been told they were not welcome, Rice said. He ministered to inner city youth.

In 1963, he took two of his daughters to the Lincoln Memorial to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. proclaim, “I have a dream.”

The Rev. Harry Kiely and the Rev. Mote joined voting rights advocates in Selma, Ala., in 1965. They traveled with Jewish, Catholic and Protestant clergy.

They heard Dr. King speak.

“He began to speak slowly and only gradually gained momentum,” Kiely wrote via email. “‘I ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.’ “

The group marched the next day with Dr. King.

“Jack and I eventually shared in the joy that came several months later when Congress actually passed a bill that guarantees the voting rights of all our citizens,” Kiely wrote.

Mote wrote two autobiographies, a children’s book and a book of poetry.

He moved to Camano Island in 2007 to be near family.

“Well into his 80s, Dad played his euphonium in a band and continued to campaign for politicians and causes he supported,” Rice said. “In his last two years, he enjoyed river rafting and riding on a dog sled.”

Her father, a great dancer, liked to eat jelly beans and popcorn, read non-fiction and religious books and watched “Seinfeld” and PBS on TV. He had a bad habit of feeding the dog at the table, his daughter said, laughing. He liked to walk and attended Stanwood United Methodist Church.

“He loved Camano Island,” she said. “He loved the scenery.”

Jack Mote donated his body to science.

Kristi O’Harran: 425-339-3451; oharran@heraldnet.com.

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