Jim Calvert and I co-authored Gazette articles for more than five years, and our last article was published August 15. Jim passed away one week later after a brief illness.
Jim was a scientist and teacher, but he was much more. He made lasting contributions to Emporia State University, to his students, and to the Emporia community.
A native of New Orleans, he earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Louisiana State University. During a tour of duty in the Air Force, Jim was stationed at Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka and married Kay Thomson.
Jim and Kay, who later taught in the Emporia Public Schools, had two children, James William Calvert and Anne Calvert Bettis, who became teachers. Kay predeceased Jim in 2014. The couple is survived by four grandchildren and one great granddaughter.
After leaving the Air Force, Jim enrolled in a doctoral program in physics at Kansas State University, completing all but his dissertation. When he decided to leave the doctoral program, his advisor steered him to an opening at Kansas State Teachers College.
Jim was interested in teaching—not research. During a recorded interview, Jim assessed his time at ESU: “I could not have found a better job. If you can imagine a job where you can do what you want when you want to do it, and you got paid, too. . . . If I had gone to a [research] university, I would have taught one course and spent the rest of my time writing proposals.”
His colleague on the faculty, DeWayne Backhus, recalls, “The first ten-hour calculus-based lecture/laboratory course sequence in physics was his ‘baby.’ So that course staple in his teaching assignment put an imprint on the aspiring physics majors, and also launched the programs for our pre-engineering and dual-degree engineering program concentrators.”
Jim was the principal advisor for students in the master’s degree program with a physics emphasis; he also helped to develop the photography program at the university. According to Backhus, “When the physical sciences were the photography course ‘home,’ Jim either solely or teamed with a faculty member from the Department of Art to teach the lecture and laboratory components of that program. Jim knew the technical aspects of optics, and the art faculty colleague assisted with the compositional aspects and other elements of critique.”
Backhus noted, “In addition to his academic contributions including an artistic bent, Jim’s persona reflected his roots in New Orleans and the Bayou State. He enjoyed Cajun cuisine. He and Kay were memorable for their hospitality. For example, during the time that the dual-degree program was being developed with the engineering deans from KU and KSU, he would first have them on campus for a multi-hour meeting, and then all would adjourn to the Calvert residence on West Street. Kay would have been instructed, sometimes with little prior notice, to have a spread of Cajun food for the congregants. That typically would follow appetites whetted with his favorite martini. That, too, was a ‘hallmark’ of the development of these highly coordinated engineering programs. It certainly made an impression on the visiting deans.”
Jim and Kay were active in the League of Women Voters for many years. When I joined the League, we attended candidate forums together and frequently had conversations about politics. Those conversations led to our co-authoring Gazette articles from 2011-2016. We took a break but started writing together again this spring.
Politics was an avocation of Jim’s, but he had many other interests. He and Kay were sailors, art advocates, music lovers and loyal followers of Emporia State University athletics. They were early supporters of the Emporia Arts Council and often hosted featured artists from out-of-town.
In 2016, Jim worked with the ESU Foundation to establish the James and Kay Calvert Donor Advised Fund to support University scholarships, the Salvation Army, and Emporia Arts Council.
Jim retired from ESU in 1998. Alumnus Brian Tichenor and his wife, Jill, created the James Calvert Endowed Professorship in Physical Sciences to honor the man Brian credits with guiding him to his career with NASA, where he worked on the space shuttle, the space station, and the Orion spacecraft. As stated in ESU’s alumni magazine, Spotlight, spring 2019, Jim Calvert’s passion for physics and his mentoring “launched his student on a path to the stars.”
In a recent email to the ESU community, President Allison Garrett wrote, “I recall Jim’s humbleness at the ceremony for the Tichenors’ gift. He said that had Brian chosen a different course of study, another ESU faculty member would be receiving a named professorship. Rather, Jim said, he was being honored because Brian believes he received a first-class education at Emporia State.”
Yes, among his many qualities, Jim was also humble.
We will miss him very much.