James Thompson

In Memoriam

Emeritus Associate Professor Jim Thompson died peacefully in his sleep on August 22, 2018, in Portland, Oregon, at age 96. He is survived by four of his children, David, Janice, Nancy, and Gordon Thompson, and four grandchildren, Julia, Joel, Samuel, and William. He was preceded in death by his wife Lois and son Steven.

Jim was born in Coshocton, Ohio, on November 15, 1921, to John Thompson and Jessie (McCluggage) Thompson. Jim loved Coshocton and Ohio history and could tell colorful stories about his childhood and college years. He played clarinet and saxophone in school and community orchestras and in swing era dance bands. He loved Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller tunes all his life.

He received his undergraduate degree from the College of Wooster, then began graduate studies in mathematics at Brown University, which made a tremendous impression on him and his subsequent career. At Brown he found a mentor, Stefan E. Warschawski and the stimulating camaraderie of the Program of Advanced Instruction and Research in Applied Mechanics established by R.G.D. Richardson. When Prof. Warschawski went to the University of Minnesota in 1946, Jim and four other Brown graduate students followed. Jim completed his Ph.D. at Minnesota in 1951 with a thesis entitled "Studies of the Behavior of the Mapping Function on the Boundary in Conformal Mapping," written under the direction of Prof. Warschawski, who, the following year, would become the Head of the Mathematics Department in the Institute of Technology. 

At that time Minnesota had two Math Departments, the other being in the College of Science and Liberal Arts (later just Liberal Arts).  They were subsequently merged into the current department in the mid 1960's, after Warschawski left, which was housed in the Institute of Technology (IT) — now called the College of Science and Engineering (CSE). After completing his degree in 1951, Jim stayed on as a post-doctoral instructor in the IT Math Department. In 1954, he was promoted to assistant professor and then to associate professor in 1967. He served as Director of Undergraduate Studies from 1973 until 1979.  Seymour Cray was one of the thousands of undergraduates Jim taught over the years. Jim retired in 1992 and, for many years, continued to be a regular presence in the Department and its activities.

Jim met his wife Lois, his “Kansas sunflower,” in Minneapolis and was married there in 1948. He loved exploring the parks and backroads of Minnesota, binoculars in hand to look for birds. He and Lois were archivists at their church, Plymouth Congregational in Minneapolis. Plymouth's King-Thompson Archives is named to honor them.  Jim was a kind and supportive father and grandfather. Lois died in 1997. Jim moved to Portland in 2013 to be closer to family. Jim is remembered by colleagues as being an unusually kind and warm-hearted member of the Department, as well as being a 'caretaker' of its history. He will be greatly missed.