John Joseph Campion, the serial energy technology entrepreneur whose innovations powered everything from one-night-only concert tour stops to entire cities facing blackout conditions in the wake of natural disasters, died Friday at a hospital in New York City. He was 57. The cause was acute myeloid leukemia (AML), with which Campion had been diagnosed in 2018.
The phrase “thankful” and “one-of-a-kind” were purpose-built for Campion. Whether you were an Uber driver shuffling John to a meeting anywhere around the world, or a young Irish race car driver in need of sage advice, John treated all people with respect and appreciation for the work they did and the role they played in life. Indeed, his own life was shaped in a very special way at a very young age, teaching him that you can’t judge a book by its cover. John’s keen sense of how best to engage with an audience and contribute in a meaningful way to accomplish a common goal was felt by ambassadors, governors, mayors, fellow business leaders and heads-of-state seeking his expertise in the energy sector. John was present for everyone with whom he came in contact, no matter the circumstances, beaming with optimism and gratitude for all. He never asked anything of anyone he wasn’t prepared to do himself.
John immigrated to the United States from Cork, Ireland in 1984 with $26 in his pocket. A circuitous route and a perpetual drive to succeed led him down many paths that only an Irishman with a powerful motor could carve.
Upon his arrival in the United States, John quickly found work as a roadie for the world’s biggest rock bands, culminating in a position as an electrician on Michael Jackson’s 1987-1989 “Bad” World Tour. During his run with Jackson, he developed a portable power generation unit that would soon be the cornerstone of the first company he founded, Showpower, Inc.
Sparked by the success and ultimate sale of Showpower to General Electric, John has served in a number of leadership positions over the years with companies such as General Electric and Alstom Power Rentals. In 2004, he acquired the latter company and transformed it to become what is today known as APR Energy, a global company specializing in the rapid deployment of cost-efficient, reliable electricity. Campion retired as Executive Chairman of APR Energy in 2019, after being diagnosed with AML, but continued to serve as its Chairman thereafter.
John located APR Energy’s global headquarters in Jacksonville, Florida after spending time there in 1989, serving as a roadie for the Rolling Stones, where, he proclaimed, after spending some down time seeing Jacksonville’s beaches and neighborhoods, that if he ever had the means and ability, Jacksonville would be his home. As much as he kept a foot in New York and New Jersey, Jacksonville was home for this world-renowned impresario.
Campion’s success bred a strong philanthropic purpose. Recognizing his roots as a rock and roll roadie, he became a partner to JABOR (Just a Bunch of Roadies), a global humanitarian group comprised exclusively of the rock and roll roadies alongside whom he worked for so many years. The group was called into action to volunteer their time and talents in a post-earthquake-devastated Haiti. John, with them both physically and emotionally, shared heart and soul combined with action and problem solving, offering advice, providing necessary resources and lifting up those in need, showing how much, he appreciated a person’s contribution to the world, or in the situation at hand. John’s energy poetically lit up every moment in time like no one else could. Everyone around the world that had the chance to cross paths with his life – for a second or for a lifetime – would never forget the lasting impact he left.
In addition to his philanthropic endeavors and his global entrepreneurial success, Campion was widely renowned for having curated a rare collection of world championship race cars, which are part of the Campion Collection. The collection, and John’s passion for sharing it with the world, helped to broaden the understanding and appeal of lesser-appreciated forms of automotive racing in the United States, such as rally racing.
A true entrepreneur with an innovative spirit, John holds various patents, including two for a scalable portable modular power plant. He also has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the 2016 Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Jacksonville Business Journal’s Ultimate CEO Award and an Honorary Degree from the University of North Florida. He has also been a featured commentator for national media outlets such as CNBC, Fox News, CBS News, Forbes, Bloomberg and others.
John’s greatest love was for his wife and life-partner in every sense of the word, Suzanne Bonnici-Campion. Theirs was a love that was truly meant to be. They were married in the Bahamas in 2013, and later by a priest in a Catholic church “just for them,” as Suzanne likes to say. Their relationship first blossomed in 1991, and like any great love story, there are twists and turns, but in the end, it is never ending. John liked to say, “we went our separate ways to build our own businesses, married other people and had the right kids, and then God brought us back together again when the time was right.”
In 2014, the Campions founded The John and Suzanne Campion Family Foundation, Inc. a charitable giving organization focused on health, education and nutrition for the underprivileged. Giving back was not only a saying for John, it was one of his life’s callings that Suzanne shared with equal passion.
Through their Foundation, the Campions sponsored children for Christmas at the Sulzbacher Center, an organization devoted to empowering homeless and at-risk women, children and men through health, housing and income services thereby restoring hope and self-sufficiency. John and Suzanne also support the Julia’s Butterfly Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to improving the lives of terminally and chronically ill children and their families. Eva’s Village is another non-profit they support, helping to provide shelter, food, and education for homeless and needy adults and their children. John also served on the Catholic University Busch School Board of Visitors and on the board of JEA in Jacksonville.
Since his retirement, John has focused much of his energy to creating CJJ Motorsports Racing, an automotive racing team he founded in 2019 to provide support to Irish racers, enabling them to compete on the global stage against the world’s most renowned race teams. The team is an extension of CJJ Motorsports, the company John founded to manage his automotive endeavors. Individuals and teams racing under the CJJ Motorsports Racing banner includes James Roe, Jr., Matt Griffin, Nicole Drought, Craig Breen, Paul Nagel, Sean Doyle, and CJJ 191, an F1 for Schools racing team from St. Brigid’s College in Loughrea, Ireland. CJJ is the primary sponsor for Formula Female, led by Nicci Daly, and its Go Girls Karting Initiative, which introduces 1,000 young women to karting in Ireland each year. As part of the karting initiative, CJJ also sponsored Alyx Coby, a young Irish woman and rising star. John and Suzanne were also significant patrons of Team Ireland.
Since first being diagnosed, John and Suzanne liked to say God brought them many angels on earth who did all that was possible every step of the way. One angel who became very special to Suzanne and John is oncology nurse Judy Murphy.
Along with Suzanne, John leaves behind a son, Joe Campionand step-daughters, Lilah, Cate & Emma Celentano; his brother Edmund and his family, Paola, nephews Brendan, Ciaran, and Finn; his sisters-in-law, Kathy Bonnici, Janet Widmayer and husband Don, their children Emily, AJ, Hannah & Lillie; Suzanne’s brother James Bonnici & partner Anthony Pizzonia; niece Jennifer Anastasiou & husband Michael and their children Luke, Ella & Jack. John’s parents, Michael and Teresa preceded him in death.
There will be a funeral mass Friday, Oct 9th at 10:00 am at St. Elizabeth Church, Wyckoff, NJ and luncheon following. Due to limited capacity at the Church because of COVID-19 restrictions, the service will be livestreamed here: https://saintelizabeths.org/live-streaming.
There will be a celebration of Campion’s life at a future date when everyone can be safe from COVID-19 concerns.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be directed to the John and Suzanne Campion Scholarship at the Catholic University's Conway School of Nursing honoring his trusted and caring nurse, Judy Murphy. Checks can be made payable to The Catholic University of America, include the Campion Scholarship in the memo line and Judy’s name. Mail gifts to: The Catholic University of America; Office of University Advancement, Suite E 200 Father O'Connell Hall, 620 Michigan Avenue, Washington, DC 20064.
And, no obituary for John Campion would be complete without his signature phrase that would end every meeting, call or conversation: “God Bless!”
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