Jim Kinsey, 1934-2014

Jim Kinsey class of 56

My friend Jim Kinsey (’56, ’59) passed away unexpectedly this weekend. He grew up in Paris, Texas and arrived at Rice as a young man in 1952, unsure of what he wanted to study. Crossing paths with chemistry professor Zevi Salsburg helped set his course. Jim became a physical chemist, and a very fine one. He taught at MIT for twenty-six years and was elected to the National Academy of Science. He returned to Rice in 1988, recruited in the optimism of the Rupp years, to become the Dean of Natural Sciences. He became an outstanding dean, a clear and effective leader who oversaw significant expansion and improvement in facilities, curriculum and faculty.

Jim Kinsey dean nd

Happily for me, Jim befriended me very early in my career. I learned a lot from him about Rice but the big lesson he taught me was something else altogether. After several years it slowly dawned on me that even when we were talking about events that he had actually participated in himself, his working assumption was that he did not fully understand what had happened or why. Discussing meetings he had been in or decisions that had been made, he was both humble and deeply inquisitive, far more likely to ask me questions than to tell me what had, in his opinion, really happened. This is both very rare and, it seems to me, very wise. The search for the truth was what mattered to him and the way towards it was to question everything, especially those things you thought you already knew. This has had a profound impact on me. It is the absolute core of life as a scholar. We are all of us working in the dark, looking hard for light.

Jim Kinsey, RIP.

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Friday Follies: The Biggest Liar

This sweet lady won the prize at her class reunion in 1976 for having the most grandchildren. Look closer at those ribbons, though, and you’ll see she also was named the First Place Liar:

Homecoming 1976 Biggest Liar

She does seem to have a small glint of desperado in those eyes.



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Letters to Santa, 1929

The second one is my favorite:

Dear Santa December 20 1929


But what I notice as an historian is that two of these fake letters concern the same thing: anxiety about athletes flunking out. Both Jack Meagher, the coach, and George McCarble, a player, beg Santa for passing grades.

It used to be quite easy for all students, not just athletes, to flunk out of Rice. Just the other day one of my colleagues in the Woodson showed me a long list of names of students who had been put on probation one semester, so long that it must have constituted a significant portion of the student body. Standards were both extremely high and completely inflexible, and after all, attendance was free so you didn’t lose any revenue when a student left. This was rough on everyone but in the 1920s the pain was especially felt by the athletes. Coach Heisman tried to keep more players eligible by taking over part of East Hall as a sort of athletic dorm but although the added discipline helped a bit, Rice kept losing both players and games. So in 1929, a new Physical Education curriculum was adopted in hopes of keeping more and better players on the field.

Did it work? Eh. Not really. Things didn’t really get any better until Jess Neely arrived in 1940.

Bonus: Spotted on campus yesterday. It’s a bold (and festive) man who wears such a tie.


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Tree Trimming at Brown College, 1972

This feels like a very long time ago to me. Something was gained but something also was lost in the switch to mixed sex colleges:

Brown Christmas tree trimming 1972

Brown Christmas 72

Brown Christmas 72 1

Brown Christmas 72 2

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A Weight Off My Mind

Remember this picture of Wiess College personages from a few weeks ago?

Wiess personages nd maybe early 80s

Well, I’ve studied it every day since then, trying to figure out what was rolling around in my head that made it seem so familiar. When I looked at it this morning it finally came to me. It was Dr. Hellum’s plaid suit that I’d seen before:

JD Hellums plaid suit

This is of absolutely no importance, of course, but I feel much better.

Bonus: Oh, what the heck. Here he is again, this time in a picture dated 1983. He really looks like an engineer, doesn’t he? I mean that as a compliment, by the way.

JD Hellums 1983 watch chain

Extra Bonus:


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A Final Thought on Those Notes About the Power Plant: Nancy Boothe, ’52

There’s only one thread left hanging:

Power plant notes

The last thing Alan Chapman noted was that whoever it was that was asking questions about the early history of the power plant ought to get over to the archives and ask Nancy Boothe about it.

Nancy Boothe c1980

Nancy, ’52, was head of the archives when I first walked in as an overly eager graduate student. It took about a week for her to realize that I was going to be such a nuisance that she might as well teach me how to find what I needed myself. For that and much, much more I owe her a great debt. We all do, really. For her work preserving the history of Rice Nancy received the ARA Meritorious Service Award in 2004 :

Nancy Boothe 2004 meritorious service

I can’t resist a picture of her as an undergrad in 1952, third from the bottom:

Nancy Boothe Feb 16 1951 Thresher

And as long as we’re at it, one more of her goofing around in the Woodson, circa 1970s:


Bonus: We don’t always have flowers in the Woodson but you certainly will get service if you ring the bell.


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Friday Afternoon Follies: Pickin’ and Grinnin’

Well, this was unexpected. Yet another banjo appears. Homecoming, 1970.

Homecoming 1970 pickin and grinnin



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