Cover photo for John Edward Vanderstar's Obituary
John Edward Vanderstar Profile Photo

John Edward Vanderstar

September 17, 1933 — December 6, 2023


John Edward Vanderstar

John Vanderstar (90) died on December 6, 2023, at Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community in Asheville, North Carolina, after a courageous struggle with heart disease and Parkinson’s.  John was born in Jersey City, NJ, and was raised there and in Florida.  He graduated from high school at the age of fifteen and won a full scholarship to attend Princeton University.  There, John was an aeronautical engineering major, rowed crew, and was sports director and a disc jockey for the radio station.  After graduation in 1954, John attended Officer Candidate School and served in the Navy as a flight navigator in an airborne early warning squadron, flying fourteen-hour sorties between Newfoundland and the Azores.  John then attended Harvard Law School and, upon graduation in 1961, joined the law firm of Covington and Burling in Washington, DC, where he became partner in 1970 and from which he retired in 2000.  John practiced in all areas of federal court and administrative agency litigation and arbitration, including antitrust, commercial, sports, broadcast, and civil rights law. 


John was active in the District of Columbia Bar, serving on various committees including the Judicial Evaluation Committee, and as a three-year member of the Board of Governors.  He also served as a mediator in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and taught antitrust law as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.


John devoted much of his free time to advancing the causes of civil and women’s rights.  He served on the Board of the American Civil Liberties Union, National Capital Area, from 1970-80, was its Chair from 1976 to 1978, and received its Alan Barth Service Award in December 1984.  John was a member of the Boards of the National Organization for Women’s Legal Defense and Education Fund (now Legal Momentum); the Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Volunteer Lawyers Project; the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice; and Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, on which he served as Treasurer.  In 1978, he successfully defended NOW in an antitrust lawsuit brought by the state of Missouri in response to boycotts that NOW had organized against states that had not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.  In October 2004, John was honored as a Champion of Choice by Planned Parenthood.


John was also a devoted member of the Episcopal Church.  In Washington, DC, he worshiped at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, where he served on the vestry, including as senior warden.  John co-founded and served as the first president of Iona Senior Services.  In the 1970s, John was an active participant in the drive to ordain women in the Episcopal clergy, and in 1975 he took his young daughters to one of the earliest ordinations of women priests.  He chaired the Finance Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington in the late 1980s and was Secretary of the Bishop Search Committee from 1989 to 1990.  John was elected as a delegate to the Diocesan Convention numerous times, to the House of Deputies five times, and also to the Executive Council of the Episcopal General Convention.  He also served as a member and Secretary of the Board of Directors of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus and served a six-year term on the Board of Trustees of the Washington National Cathedral Foundation. 


As a member of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, John authored the 2006 General Convention resolution that declared the institution of slavery a sin, mandated that the church acknowledge and express regret for its support of slavery and of racial discrimination for years after slavery’s abolition, and called for the Presiding Bishop to call for a “Day of Repentance and Reconciliation.”  A commemorative service was held at St. Thomas African Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, PA, on October 3, 2008.


John will be remembered as a man of great intellect, integrity, and humor.  He was a lover of words, a gifted punster, a faithful Episcopalian, a skilled and talented attorney, a champion of human rights, an asker of questions and contributor of letters to the editor, a steadfast friend, and a devoted husband and father.  John taught his daughters to value the dignity of all humankind and never to take themselves too seriously, and he was there to cheer their successes and catch them when they stumbled.  He was an affectionate father who loved a good caper and relished laughing at himself. 


John found deep and abiding love in mid-life, marrying M. Elizabeth Culbreth (Libby/Liz) in 1985.  He became enchanted with Libby’s hometown of Waynesville, NC, and they built a mountain home there in 2000, moving there permanently in 2009.  During his years in Waynesville, John initiated an oral history project in the local African American community, helped establish an NAACP Chapter in the western counties, and with Libby found a church home at St. Andrew’s on the Hill Episcopal Church in Canton, NC.  John and Liz traveled extensively, nurtured numerous decades-long friendships, enjoyed their shared faiths and love of sports, politics, history, art, and the mountains of Western NC, and stood by each other through the vicissitudes of life.  John became a proud member of the spouses’ club of the Board of Trustees of Berea College in Kentucky, where Libby attended college and, beginning in 1978, served as Trustee and eventual Chair until her retirement in 2021.  John endowed the Student Parent Recruit and Support Program Fund at Berea College.


John is survived by his wife Elizabeth Culbreth, his daughters Pippa, of Glenside, PA; Alexandra, of Sharon, MA; Thankful (Harry Velasquez), of Silver Spring, MD; and Eliza (Michael Bennett, children Owen and Lily), of Brookline, MA; grandchildren Clara Reyes, of Weymouth, MA; and Levi Reyes, of Burlington, VT; and his brother-in-law James M. Culbreth, of Waynesville, NC.  John is also survived by his half-brother Birney LeGette (Nanscy Neiman), half-sisters Dr. Judith Vanderstar (Dr. David Russell) and Marie V. Phelan (Michael), and cousins Diane Smith and Elaine Greene.  John was predeceased by his infant daughter Liza and his brother Ronald Vanderstar.  A service will be held at Grace Chapel, Deerfield Episcopal Retirement Community, in January 2024, with a memorial service to follow at a later date at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, where John’s remains will be interred.  Memorial contributions may be made to any of the organizations or institutions that John believed in and supported.  Wells Funeral Home in Waynesville, NC, is assisting the family.


A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 20, 2024, at Grace Chapel at Deerfield Retirement Community.  A reception will follow the service in the Tuton Community Room at Deerfield.  


The care of Mr. Vanderstar has been entrusted to Wells Funeral Home of Waynesville and an online memorial register is available at "Obituaries" at

Past Services

Memorial Service

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Starts at 2:00 pm (Eastern time)

Deerfield Retirement Community

Highbridge Crossing, Asheville, NC 28803

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