John Alvin Acher, a good-natured political gadfly who was one of Washington's most prominent, if not one of its last, true-believing socialists, died Sept. 28 of septic shock from a systemic infection of unknown origin. He was 61 and lived in the District.
On Aug. 29, he had been on the Potomac in his small sailboat, but three days later he felt ill and visited a doctor. On Sept. 4, he was placed in intensive care at George Washington University Hospital, where he stayed until his death more than three weeks later.
Mr. Acher (rhymes with "laker") earned his living as a computer expert, most recently with the Environmental Protection Agency, but it was left-wing politics that truly engaged him. His hero was Eugene V. Debs, the labor organizer of a century ago who had five losing runs for the presidency as a socialist.
Mr. Archer was one of the central figures of the old D.C. Statehood Party, now merged with the Green Party, and twice ran for the D.C. Council on the Statehood ticket in the 1980s. He lost both times. For many years, Mr. Acher led the monthly Eugene V. Debs Forum, a socialist discussion group at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington.
"John believed in democratic socialism and never supported the Communist Party or the Trotskyites," said Bob Auerbach, who co-led some of the discussions and is a Green Party candidate in Maryland's 5th Congressional District. "He didn't believe in government ownership but in ownership by the people."
Since 1974, Mr. Acher had also been the presiding spirit of the Lamont Street Collective, a group home on Lamont Street NW that was a nucleus of leftist politics. He was also associated with the District's All Souls Unitarian Church, where he chaired the social justice committee.
"Belief in the good of humanity and social justice and equality of all -- these are all things John stood for," said a friend, Share Maack.
Mr. Acher, who was born in Columbus, Ind., and grew up in Franklin, Ind., may have inherited his strongly held views from his father, a Democratic activist in Indiana.
"He delighted in engaging in what you would call an argument," said his brother, Andrew.
Exposed to socialist ideals as a student at Indiana University, Mr. Acher graduated with a dual major of chemistry and philosophy. After college, he married and lived in Europe, working in a chemical laboratory in Germany. He traveled throughout Europe and the Middle East before moving to Washington in 1974. He received a master's degree in philosophy from Catholic University and did graduate work in education at the University of the District of Columbia.
From 1982 to 1996, he taught computer and business skills at Bell Multicultural High School, a D.C. public school that enrolls many foreign-born students. From 1998 to 2000, he taught at Lincoln Multicultural Middle School and at the Options Public Charter School in the District. He also edited a union newspaper for the United Auto Workers.
In 2000, Mr. Acher became an administrative assistant with the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA. He helped set up meetings and travel and scoured Web sites from around the world to compile a daily newsletter on environmental developments for his colleagues.
Whether the cause was racial equality, Central America or the environment, he could be found at the center of many protests and demonstrations in Washington. Yet, for all his steadfast beliefs, Mr. Acher was known as a warm, humorous, generous man who enjoyed the area's many cultural offerings.
Each week, he e-mailed to friends a personally chosen list of concerts, lectures, poetry readings and other events -- most of them free -- around town. On weekends, he dressed in white and went sailing on his 14-foot Sunfish.
Mr. Acher had diabetes and had lost part of a toe, had overcome problems with alcohol and was often short of money. He also had an unfortunate propensity for accidents that led him to injure his head no fewer than seven times, one friend said. The worst came two years ago, when he was riding his bicycle. That accident resulted in emergency surgery to relieve pressure in his skull; afterward, he suffered memory lapses.
His marriage to Pamela Schlanger Acher ended in divorce. He has two brothers in Indiana.
After his death, friends sorted through Mr. Acher's room in the house on Lamont Street. It was crammed with six file cabinets, hundreds of books, greeting cards and computer and stereo equipment hanging over the bed. It also had, on the wall, a collection of political buttons the size of an American flag.