During his 43 years as a faculty member at UW-Madison, Jim Knox’s research transformed the field of fluvial geomorphology, opening new avenues that linked his field to broader contemporary environmental issues. To tens of thousands of students, he was a much-loved teacher, explaining not only how streams and soils work, but why we should care about them. He retired from teaching in 2011 but, as an emeritus faculty member, continued his research and maintained an active presence in Science Hall. His sudden death in October, 2012 was a huge loss for our department. For not only was Jim a great teacher and scientist, he was a great builder of department community.
Considered by all to be a model citizen of the department, Jim not only was always willing to dedicate his time, good nature and common sense to work for the greater good, but he was also strongly inclusive and caring about people on a personal level – a sentiment that may be best expressed by these student remembrances:
“I felt lucky that Jim’s office was right next to the Biogeo Lab where I worked, since it was so easy to stop by and chat with him. I appreciated how Jim cared both about students’ research and their personal lives. When I went to Jim’s office for advice on particle settling, he’d ask what I’d been up to lately and how I was doing. He was always happy to lend me a tool, discuss ideas to solve a problem I was having in the lab, or tell tales of crazy former students and their mishaps.” – Nina Chaopricha
“Jim always went above and beyond as an adviser and a friend. He had an open door policy and always was elated to have someone stop by, whether it be to talk about the weekend amusements or latest research discoveries.” – Samantha Greene
“As an older grad student, I have encountered folks who thought my presence here was strange and ultimately doomed to failure. Jim, however, treated me with unfailing kindness. He made me feel as if Science Hall was somehow blessed by my presence. For me, the sun always seemed to shine brighter when Jim was around.” – Karen Russ
In recognition of Jim’s important contribution to the culture of the department, a fund has been named in his honor. The purpose of the James Knox Geography Community-Building Fund is to foster community among faculty, staff, students and alumni of the department. Donations to the fund support events such as department picnics, social gatherings with visiting scholars, the annual AAG party, alumni events, and the recognition of life events of members of our community.
“Perhaps my strongest impression of Jim is as a builder. He’s been called a force of nature, and he surely was. However, a hurricane is not the right comparison: the Mississippi is much better. Steadfast and consistent, and a depositional section, not erosional, perhaps the delta…always positive, always building.”
– Jim Burt, from the eulogy for Jim Knox