Dr. James Burleigh Thompson Jr.

Obituary
3 entries
  • "Jim was my great uncle and a truly inspirational man. He..."
    - Steven Mairs
  • "Michael, please know that you're in my thoughts and prayers..."
    - Jane Anton
  • "I studied mineralogy under JBT at Harvard, back in the..."
    - Byron King
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Dr. James Burleigh Thompson Jr.
Maine Native, Teacher & New England Geologist
LEXINGTON, Mass. -- James Burleigh Thompson Jr., a native of Maine, teacher, and New England geologist of Lexington, Mass., died on Nov. 15, 2011. He is the beloved husband of the late Eleanora Thompson (Mairs). Dr. Thompson was a renowned geology researcher and Professor Emeritus at both Harvard University and Dartmouth College.
James B. Thompson Jr. was born to J. Burleigh Thompson and Edith Peabody Thompson on Nov. 20, 1921, in Calais, where his father was superintendent of schools. The family moved to Fort Lee, N.J., when he was seven or eight years old where his father was also superintendent of schools and principal of the renowned Fort Lee High School, noted for its Ph.D. teachers that he had recruited from nearby Columbia University including the Courant Institute of Mathematics.
A private memorial service will be held at Brookhaven at Lexington retirement community, 1010 Waltham St., Lexington, Mass. A a private burial will be held in Roque Bluffs at a cemetery next door to the old Thompson family farm where his father grew up and was home-schooled by his mother, Lura Vellie Gould Thompson.
He attended Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, and graduated Cum Laude from Dartmouth in 1942 with an A.B. in geology. Jim starred in mathematics, and the math faculty was very disappointed when he didn't major in mathematics. Jim served as an instructor there that same year and his life-long affection for hiking and skiing led to his active membership in and service as head of the Trails and Shelters Division of Dartmouth Outing Club.
He entered the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942 and attained the rank of first lieutenant serving for the duration of World War II.
After his discharge, he entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology and earned a doctorate in geology in 1950. After a short Instructorship at M.I.T. he joined the faculty at Harvard University, Massachusetts, in 1950 and remained there for the rest of his career. He was named the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology in 1977 and retired as an emeritus professor in 1992. During his tenure at Harvard he was a visiting professor at University of Bern, Switzerland (1963), Dartmouth College (1988-1992, part-time) and Arizona State University (1991), a distinguished visitor at University of Cincinnati, Ohio (1974), a guest professor at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (1977-1978) and a visiting research geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey (1985-1986), among several others.
James Thompson married Eleanora Mairs in 1957; they
have one child, Michael.
James Thompson had a very productive career. He was an author of some 41 articles in international journals and professional volumes as well as 12 field guides and four geologic maps. He was coeditor of one professional volume. In addition, many of his papers set new benchmarks in petrology and geochemistry. Many of his papers were distinctive for the flexibility and elegance with which he applied various advanced methods to present new viewpoints on old subjects. After one of his presentations at the Carnegie Geophysical Laboratory, the noted petrologist, Norman L. Bowen, came up to him and told him 'I not only liked your talk, but I liked the way you presented it.' In his petrological work Thompson had also been inspired by the Swiss Petrologist, Paul Niggli, and the Russian petrologist, Dmitri Korzhinskii. In what he thought was his most important work on 'phase space' he had been inspired by a section in Nobelist W. L. Bragg's 'Atomic Structure of Minerals' (1937).
Thompson has been well recognized by the geologic profession for his contributions in terms of honors and awards. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He received the Arthur L. Day Medal from the Geological Society of America (1964), the Roebling Medal from the Mineralogical Society of America (1979), and the Victor M. Goldschmidt Medal from the Geo-chemical Society (1985). He received a Ford Faculty Fellowship (1952-1953), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1963), and he was an Ernst Cloos Memorial Scholar at the Johns Hopkins University (1983) and a Fairchild Distinguished Scholar at California Institute of Technology (1976), among numerous distinguished lectureships. Thompson also received an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth.
Thompson has also performed significant service to the profession serving on numerous committees and panels for the National Science Foundation, National Research Council, the Geo-chemical Society, Geological Society of America, and the Mineralogical Society of America. He was president of the Mineralogical Society of America in 1967/68, as well as the Geochemical Society in 1968 and 1969.
Jim remained a prodigious hiker and canoer until late in life and was a member of the Mayflower Society.
He is survived by his devoted son, Michael A. Thompson, of Allston, Mass.
Donations may be made in his memory to the Alliance for the Mentally Ill, a favored cause of the late U.S. Army Air Force
Veteran of W.W.II.

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Published in Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram on Nov. 27, 2011
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