Amherst Magazine

James Louis Lehr '62

Submitted by Craig H. Morgan

From The Olio

lehr JAMES LOUIS LEHR
1510 South Cottage Grove, Kirksville, Missouri
Prepared at Kirksville Senior High School
Physics
Kappa Theta
Choregus. Band

James Louis (Jim) Lehr '62 died February 4, 1989.
(view alumni profile - Log-in required)

From Our Reunion Book

Many bright and talented young men entered Amherst as freshmen in the fall of 1958. Jim Lehr was certainly among the most gifted of us. I was shocked when he told me that he had been "wait-listed" and offered admission only during the summer. I was by no means Jim’s intellectual peer and wondered why I had been admitted when people like Jim were wait-listed or denied. (Perhaps the fact that my father was a 1929 classmate of Eugene Wilson had something to do with it.) Jim and I became close friends during freshman year. We roomed together our sophomore and senior years. I drove from New York to Missouri in September of 1959 in a barely serviceable ’54 Nash to meet Jim and drive back. We painted a barn to reimburse Jim’s father for the cost of replacing the main engine bearings in the Nash. Jim insisted on stopping to climb every fire-tower between Kirksville and White Plains to cure me (successfully) of my acrophobia.

I made Jim’s acquaintance through our membership in the Amherst College Band-- he on clarinet, I on tuba. Jim was already at 18 a clarinetist of professional quality. The director (J. Clement Schuler) made him Concertmaster and later Student Conductor. Jim was every bit as good as the legendary "Pop" Schuler. One summer, Dr. Schuler asked Jim to become a member of "Kids from Home"—a group of young musicians under his direction who entertained US troops abroad every summer from 1953 to 1962. Jim thrived on the experience.

Jim excelled academically in every subject, but his intellectual passions were physics and music. He completed an honors project on fluid mechanics. Jim experienced the world, however, through the ears of a musician, rather than the eyes of a scientist. A classmate who had the same instructor for English 1, but in a different section, remembers a sample paper the instructor circulated that he immediately recognized as Jim’s work. It began as follows.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Rest. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Rest. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Rest. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. Rest. Knock, knock, knock! Rest. 'Hi, let's go eat!' 4/4 time, quarter note = 120. That's my friend David coming down the stairs of Morrow Hall, to see if I'm ready to go to dinner at Valentine. He always plays this piece exactly the same way: same tempo, same meter, same volume. He's as reliable as a metronome.

Jim enrolled in the Phd program in Physics at the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1962. I visited him in his apartment in Philadelphia. There he had a harpsichord that he had built himself from a kit and could play magnificently. Jim was not at all sure that he wanted to be a physicist. He was seriously considering pursuing his musical interests professionally. He was also under some pressure from his father (a physician who was CEO of the only medical hospital in Kirksville) to go to Medical School. Jim withdrew from Penn and took a job teaching at Lawrence Academy in Groton, some 80 miles from Mt. Holyoke College, where his high-school sweetheart, Ruth Hill, was completing her senior year.

Jim and Ruth married and moved back to Missouri, where Jim graduated from Medical School at the University of Missouri in 1968. Jim and Ruth had two children—Elizabeth and Jonathan (Amherst ’92).

As a medical professional Jim pursued his interests in physics. He specialized in radiology and was a pioneer in the fields of computerized diagnostics and radiological information systems (RIS). He rose rapidly in academic medicine, becoming a tenured associate professor and vice-chair of the Department of Radiology at Missouri already in 1974. In 1976 he accepted a position as Associate Chair of Radiology at the University of Chicago, where he was soon promoted to full professor. About the same time, Jim and Ruth decided to separate, but he remained devoted to his family.

In 1988, Jim became terminally ill. He returned to Missouri, where he died on 4 February 1989 in the care of Ruth, their children, and his parents. One of his last papers was "Do’s and Don’ts of Installing a RIS" (Journal of Digital Imaging , November, 1988.) He would be surprised at how long it has taken for the medical profession to embrace digital technology.

---Alden Mosshammer '62

Jim Lehr

Obituary Located

Ross Drake has found the following obituary