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.
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.