One North Vietnamese bullet tore into Army Sergeant John Eade’s abdomen. Another struck his right shoulder, leaving him to fire his M-16 left-handed. Shrapnel lodged in one of his feet, hobbling his ability to move.
The only survivor of a four-man fire team, he struggled to stay alive and keep fighting on Nov. 17, 1965, firing rounds at enemy soldiers and hurling grenades after his platoon was ambushed during the Vietnam War. Most soldiers in his unit were killed in the attack, and his own life was on the brink.
“I was only half-conscious and was leaning against a tree,” he told a United Press International reporter several days later, recalling that he suddenly spotted a North Vietnamese officer. “He took his pistol and shot me again — right in the face. And then he left me for dead.”
Though Mr. Eade lost his right eye to that final bullet, he lived for nearly 57 more years, becoming a respected political campaign operative, architect, teacher, consultant, and commissioner of Boston’s Inspectional Services Department.
Mr. Eade, who had lived in Winthrop for years, was 79 when he died Wednesday in the Lambertville, Mich., home of his cousin Elaine Bender, a retired oncology nurse. He moved last fall to Lambertville, just outside of his Toledo, Ohio, hometown, as cancer metastasized through his body and time grew short.
“Everything made him special,” his cousin said.
“Our family is so proud of him and all that he accomplished in his life,” she said. “He could have come back from Vietnam and said, ‘Forget it, I’m disabled.’ I think he was so pleased that after he lived through that horrible Vietnam experience, he decided to come back and leave an impact on this world, which he did.”
A Golden Gloves-winning boxer in his teens, Mr. Eade returned home from the war to study economics, sociology, and South American politics at the University of Toledo, from which he received a bachelor’s degree.
Rejected for a job in the business world because of his eye injury, he turned to politics and ran a local Toledo campaign.
His success and his intuitive grasp of the work led to bigger contests. Mr. Eade worked on the presidential campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter, who appointed him to head the National Commission on Neighborhoods.
After that government service, he was a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School and then received a master’s in architecture from Miami University in Ohio.
Mr. Eade kept working on campaigns, though, including for Bill Clinton, for whom he helped engineer an upset win in Ohio in 1992.
“We’d put together a phone operation, made over a million calls Election Day to move the vote,” he told the Globe a few days after Clinton was elected president.
Mr. Eade practiced architecture in Vienna before eventually landing in Greater Boston, where was an architect and taught at what was then the Boston Architectural Center.
In 1994, Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino — a friend since they worked on presidential campaigns — appointed Mr. Eade to run the city’s troubled Inspectional Services Department, which he did until 1998.
So by-the-book in an agency that had known a fair share of corruption, Mr. Eade even tried to fine the mayor’s office for doing renovations without securing permits, only to find that legally, the city couldn’t fine itself. He and Menino said the episode created no ill will between them.
“The mayor is not only my friend, he and Jimmy Carter are the finest public servants I’ve ever been around,” Mr. Eade told the Globe in 1997.
“John was a free thinker and a free spirit when I met him, and he is now. You’ll never change John Eade,” Menino, who died in 2014, said for the same article, adding that he had appointed Mr. Eade because he was “an architect by training and a tough manager. I needed a tough manager and someone who understood buildings.”
While running Inspectional Services, Mr. Eade also increased the penalties for employees who used racial slurs, including getting fired for a third offense, after an incident brought to light that under city rules at the time, the department couldn’t impose a significant suspension on an employee for uttering racial epithets.
“The fact is that this has happened before, around here, and not much was done about it,” Mr. Eade told the Globe in 1995. “It won’t be tolerated in the future.”
The oldest of three siblings, John Eade was born on April 21, 1943, in Toledo and grew up there, a son of Harry Eade, a factory foreman who worked second jobs to make ends meet, and Katherine Houser Eade, who also worked outside of the home.
“Literally John did hunt and fish to help put food on the table,” said Susan Lewis, Mr. Eade’s longtime companion. “He loved it, but it was important. It was necessary.”
Mr. Eade, whose marriage earlier in his adulthood ended in divorce, enlisted in the Army about a year or so after graduating from DeVilbiss High School in Toledo.
He had played high school sports and continued to box, even when he was a Kennedy School fellow.
Spending time in the outdoors was always a balm for him, though. An avid hiker who completed the Appalachian Trail twice, he used to retreat to wilderness in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula after the stress of campaigns.
Mr. Eade was up there, dining at a rural bar and grill after Carter’s 1976 presidential victory, when two state troopers came in looking for him.
“They said, ‘The president wants to talk with you and you’ve been hard to find.’ And then the phone rang at the bar,” Lewis said. Carter had finally tracked down Mr. Eade.
“It’s classic John,” Lewis said. “If he didn’t want to be found, you had to be the president to find him.”
Lewis and Mr. Eade were a couple for 27 years, meeting when she was library director at what is now Boston Architectural College. True to form, he didn’t ask her for a date until he had stepped down from the school’s board of trustees.
“He was the most honest person,” she said, recalling that he was offered all manner of favors to bend rules when he was Inspectional Services commissioner, all of which he rejected.
“John was just a good person,” Lewis said. “He enjoyed helping people and he didn’t want any recognition for it.”
She is his only immediate survivor. A service with military honors, which will be live streamed, will be held at noon Monday in Walker Funeral Home in Toledo.
At 11:30 a.m. June 30, a memorial service and burial will be held at Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne. Those attending should arrive by 11:15.
Mr. Eade was awarded the Purple Heart for his war injuries (he also was burned by napalm), the Combat Infantryman Badge, and, not long before he died, a Bronze Star Medal.
US Representative Marcy Kaptur, a Toledo Democrat, tried unsuccessfully to persuade the military to honor him with a Distinguished Service Cross for combat heroism. She told the Toledo Blade that officials declined because there were no eyewitnesses alive to confirm Mr. Eade’s actions while he fought to save fellow soldiers.
On that long-ago day in Vietnam, “it wasn’t a matter of living or dying. It was taking care of each other and doing your duty,” Mr. Eade told the Boston Herald’s Jules Crittenden years ago.
“The question was not, ‘Am I going to die?’ We all know the answer to that,” Mr. Eade said. “The question was, ‘How am I going to die? I am going to die well.’ ”
An earlier version of this obituary contained an incorrect reference to the political party of US Representative Marcy Kaptur of Toledo. She is a Democrat.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.