John E. Chester, 78, of Ambler, an executive for a former surgical-supply company in Fort Washington, died Thursday, Dec. 9, of heart problems at Abington Memorial Hospital.

Mr. Chester started out selling surgical instruments in the mid-1950s.

He was on the road for a variety of firms and, over the years, moved up to corporate president of the former Pilling Co. in Fort Washington.

The company was sold in 1993 to become Teleflex.

Six years ago, Mr. Chester finally retired after doing consulting work for a variety of companies from 1993 to 2004, said his wife, the former Arden Fuller.

Mr. Chester was born in New York City and graduated in 1950 from Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, where he was a champion swimmer.

He enlisted in the Navy in 1951 and served during the Korean War, his wife said. He was discharged in 1955 at the rank of medical corpsman second class.

He earned an associate degree in general studies from Queens College, his wife said. Further studies were interrupted by a business transfer to the South.

Subsequent moves for subsidiaries of Bristol-Myers Squibb, the pharmaceutical company, took the family to Indiana and California, where - for five years ending in 1987 - he was a corporate vice president in the firm's dental division.

On return to the Philadelphia area, Mr. Chester became president of Pilling. He made the firm profitable before its sale, his wife said.

Mr. Chester was a member for 23 years of St. Joseph Church in Ambler. He enjoyed golf, reading, and watching TV westerns.

He and his wife met at a church dance and married in 1952.

In addition to her, he is survived by sons John E. III, Kevin S., and Stephen; three grandchildren; two brothers; and two sisters. A brother, Alan, died earlier.

A viewing from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15, at the Emil J. Ciavarelli Family Funeral Home, 951 E. Butler Pike, Ambler, will be followed at 10 a.m. by a Funeral Mass at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 16 S. Spring Garden St., Ambler.

Interment will be in St. John Neumann Cemetery, Chalfont.