James Joseph Loftus III passed away from cancer the morning of Sept. 3, 2013. He was at home, resting peacefully, and in the company of loved ones.
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Jim was born May 17, 1950, to James Joseph Loftus Jr. and Mary King Loftus; both of San Francisco, Calf. He was raised in Mill Valley and San Francisco, attending St. Cecelia's elementary and Riordan High. He attended San Francisco City College, studying engineering, subsequently transferring to, and graduating from, Santa Clara University in 1972 with a degree in civil engineering.
San Francisco's culture, ocean beaches and childhood friends remained strong identifiers throughout his life.
With an eagerness to expand his horizons, he seized upon the chance in summer 1972 to move to Fairbanks. He persevered through that first winter, determined to give his new home a fair chance, eventually landing work on survey crews for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. During the next few years, young Loftus worked in Alaska during the construction season and traveled extensively in the off-season. His work on the pipeline solidified his desire to live in Alaska, despite his rather unique distinction of having spent five consecutive Septembers in Atigun Pass! He welcomed Alaska's challenges, the unparalleled scenery, and the host of characters that became friends, mentors and, eventually, family.
Increasing responsibilities and in-depth exposure to engineering while working on the pipeline inspired him to return to school, completing a graduate degree in structural engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle. Upon finishing his master's degree in 1979, he returned to Fairbanks for perhaps the most important summer of his life during which he fell in love with Eileen Stack. The lovely couple married Oct. 6, 1979, and were a picture perfect pair!
Suit on and freshly groomed, the now husband and father pounded the pavement in Seattle, seeking work as structural engineer. Landing a job at a well-respected firm, he flourished and developed his skills while working on prominent projects in Seattle, including the iconic Columbia Tower.
It wasn't long before the call of the wild beckoned and in 1984 Jim and Eileen packed up their growing family and headed north to Fairbanks. Recognizing the need for local structural engineering services, Loftus Engineering, Inc was formed. Jim's professional mindset, first-hand knowledge of Alaska's extreme climate, and a true passion for structural engineering contributed to the company's success. The company grew over time through several mergers with other local firms, becoming PDC Engineering, Inc. in 1998. As a principal partner, Jim managed the structural engineering department, and under his direction, PDC designed many of Fairbanks' well known structures including the Rabinowitz State Courthouse, UAF's Museum of the North and the Centennial Pedestrian Bridge. You can hardly look more than two directions in Fairbanks without identifying a structure to which he directly contributed.
A biography of Jim Loftus would hardly be complete without mention of his running career. Beginning at a young age, he enjoyed running and competing against others. He became an accomplished middle distance runner while in junior college, and for many years after he was a fixture at the all-comers track meets in the Bay area, often leading the pack in his specialty, the 800-meter. For Jim, running and training became, as he described it, a form of personal yoga, bringing peace, reflection, and opportunity for personal improvement. He was active in the local running scene, organizing, volunteering, and mentoring Fairbanks runners and track meets from the mid-'80s until 2012.
As a metaphor for the gentle parenting and encouragement he gave as a father and coach, he preferred to allow young runners to "wiggle in the blocks" rather than call a false start, believing it important that everyone gets to run the race. He pursued running throughout his life and had well respected finishes of second place at the U.S. Masters National Championships in 2000, and fifth place in the World Senior Championships in 2005, both in the 800-meter. He considered these to be great personal accomplishments, caring more about the experience than the finish; he relished meeting and running with elite runners of the world.
With a turntable in constant rotation and often a book in hand, music and reading were cornerstones of his daily routine. He was intensely interested in an astonishing range of music from Americana and vintage rock to punk and alt-country. Readings later in life focused on philosophy and history, meticulously building a base for more probing thought. Using a scholarly approach, he studied philosophy from classic to current and actively engaged fellow scholars in discussion as he searched for continued understanding of the human experience.
His beliefs of expanding one's knowledge of the greater world around us, personal responsibility and work ethic were applied to both his professional and family lives.
Jim's greatest joy and most valued accomplishment was his family. He is survived by his wife Eileen, sons Aran, Oliver, Michael, and daughter Clare. He loved to be among them all, delighting in their diversity, marveling at their individuality and thankful for their unity. He is also survived by his father, James Joseph Loftus Jr., and sisters, Jeanne, Rosemary, Teresa, Eileen and Julie.
He was preceded in death by his mother, Mary Loftus.
In the last months of his life, Jim's physical condition deteriorated, though his inquisitive mind and quick laughter remained. Many will retain an image of him running, tall and strong, powering through the last turn, arms and legs churning like pistons, an outward symbol of his capacity for precise, intelligent and consequential work, and his deep love of the whole show.
According to his wishes, his passing will be marked by an Irish style wake, commencing at 5 p.m. Sept. 13, 2013, at the Fairbanks Mushers Hall off Farmers Loop Road.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to one of Jim's preferred charities: Running Club North, Engineers Without Borders USA, or the J. Michael Carroll Cancer Center in Fairbanks. A thoughtfully recorded interview of Jim recounting his adventures is available through UAF's Oral History Program.
Published in Daily News-Miner on Sept. 12, 2013