Dr. James Edward Calvert Jr. passed away Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, after a full life as a teacher, political activist, outdoorsman, craftsman and beloved father and husband.
Jim was born Sept. 2, 1936, in San Diego, Calif., to James and Pauline Calvert. He spent his early years on Coronado Island, where he had childhood experiences that became his favorite stories. He told of paddling his surfboard out past the breakers and encountering a periscope. As this was during World War II, his father strictly forbade him going out that deep again. He also told of accompanying his father on trips to the Mexican border, unloading cases of smuggled liquor from fishing boats to circumvent wartime rationing, to provision the bar and restaurant his father owned.
His family moved to Nevada City, Calif., then to Mountain View, Calif., where he attended high school. The renowned Stanford professor George Pólya volunteered in his math classes, identified Jim’s mathematical prowess, and developed a lasting mentoring relationship.
After a few semesters at San Jose State, Jim transferred to UC Berkeley. Forced to leave school when he was drafted into the Army, he chose instead to join the Marines. As an electronics technician, he was stationed on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico, camped out in paradise and supporting communications training for beach landings.
Vieques continued to be a special place for Jim and Susan as they vacationed there many times, enjoying the beaches he had known as a young man. His time in the Marine Corps also exposed him to the issues of the broader world. While stationed in North Carolina, he was horrified by racial segregation, and took the first of many public political acts as he was arrested for sitting in the Black section of a movie theater.
Jim returned to college, finishing his studies in mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. In Berkeley, he met the love of his life, Susan Todd. After they were married in 1962, they moved to Davis, where Jim completed a master’s and a Ph.D. in mathematics and their children, Matthew and Andrew, were born. His research was advised principally, and remotely, by Pólya, and he liked to tell the story of driving to Stanford with his UC-Davis adviser and his dissertation, patiently waiting while his mentor read it, then having Pólya nod and say it was good enough for a Ph.D.
In 1967, Jim joined the mathematics faculty at the University of Idaho. He and Susan made Moscow their home for nearly 50 years, and welcomed a third son, Daniel. Jim was at the center of the political change of the era. He led the Idaho War Tax Resisters League to protest the Vietnam War. He was one of the few male members of the Moscow chapter of the National Organization for Women. He was also a lifelong environmentalist, taking great pride in the fact that he led a backpacking trip with Sen. Frank Church that contributed to the creation of the Mallard-Larkins Pioneer Area in 1969. His family regularly packed into the Mallard-Larkins to visit the mountain goats in later years.
From the day Jim brought a tent home and announced that the family was now a camping family to the converted school bus with kitchen and bunk beds to the retirement RV, exploring the beautiful places of the West was always a family passion. Since university breaks did not always line up with elementary schools, the Calvert boys usually spent May on Vancouver Island and missed the end of the school year. They learned a lot of marine biology and rainforest ecology, and developed a lifelong love of the outdoors and family adventures.
Jim was a handyman who could fix anything and took on many large projects, from home renovations to loom-building and blacksmithing. He was also an adventurous cook, who made sure his three boys carry on the family sourdough bread-baking tradition.
He also loved photography, first supporting family efforts by building and maintaining a darkroom, then experimenting with larger formats on his own. His images of mountains and beaches (and a few people) fill the family walls.
Professor Calvert also left his mark in his 34-year tenure at the University of Idaho. He was a dedicated teacher and mentor, and was known for his work to prepare future elementary teachers and computer scientists. While serving as chair of the Math Department for 11 years, he created the innovative Pólya Math Learning Center to support students.
Jim and Susan moved to Portland in 2017 to the Willamette View retirement community, where Jim was supported through his courageous battle with dementia by loving wife Susan and the caring staff at Willamette View.
Jim is survived by his wife, Susan; their three sons, Matt (Jen), of Madison, Wis., Andy (Amy), of Belmont, Calif., and Dan (Victoria), of Portland, Ore.; and six grandchildren. His sister, Sally Casad, lives in Port Townsend, Wash. He was preceded in death by his parents and a sister, Shirley Wells.
As Jim loved watching the arboretum grow, the family suggests gifts to the Jim and Susan Calvert Family Arboretum Fund at the University of Idaho: Calvert Arboretum Fund JF191 c/o University of Idaho Foundation 875 Perimeter Drive – MS 3143 Moscow, ID 83844-3143. To donate online, visit www.uidaho.edu/givenow and enter “Calvert” in the designation field.