John Joseph Brewbaker was born in Botetourt County, Virginia. He attended Buchanon High School where he received his secondary education. He enrolled at Roanoke College and earned his A.B. degree in 1918. John continued his graduate studies at the University of Virginia, where he graduated in 1939 with a MA degree in Education. Furthermore, he performed graduate work at Columbia University Summer Schools.
John began his public school career as principal of Buchanan High School in 1922. He subsequently was principal of St. Paul High School (Wise County), R.E. Lee, Madison, and Maury schools (Norfolk). He became the business manager of the Norfolk city school system in 1942, and became superintendent in 1949.
John's career received national attention during the critical days of school desegregation in 1959-1959. The high point came on February 2, 1959 when six Norfolk desegregated schools that had been closed reopened in an air of calm. Following his retirement in 1960, John served as consultant for the Southern Regional Council in Atlanta to assist the Couth's desegregation program. He received the Liberty Bell Award of the Norfolk-Portsmouth Bar Association in 1964.
John was awarded the Distinguished Service Award by University of Virginia Chapter, Alpha Beta of Phi Delta Kappa in 1960, and the Liberty Bell award by the Norfolk Portsmouth Bar Association in 1964. John was married to Louise Fitch Brewbaker, and together they had two children; John Joseph Brewbaker, Jr. and Henley Sidney Brewbaker.
John Joseph Brewbaker received the Roanoke College Medal in 1967.