Dr. James Edward "Jim" Brittain

Hendersonville, North Carolina

May 20, 1931 – Mar 8, 2018


May 20, 1931
March 8, 2018
Hendersonville, North Carolina


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Dr. James Edward (Jim) Brittain

Mills River native Dr. James Edward (Jim) Brittain died March 8, 2018, at Carolina Village, Hendersonville, NC. Born on a subsistence farm in Mills River, NC, May 20, 1931, Jim was the son of the late Randall and Velma Gillespie Brittain, and descendent of the earliest European families in Henderson County, including the Brittains, Gillespies, Sittons, Rickmans, Claytons, and Orrs. In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death in 1972 by his first wife, Louise Lambert.

Jim was admired throughout his life and career for his scholarship. He frequently expressed appreciation of the legendary teachers at Mills River School who prepared him for an academic career. Following four years as instructor in electronic countermeasures in the US Air Force, Jim entered Clemson College where he majored in Electrical Engineering, graduating with highest honors. He then earned a Master of Science degree at the University of Tennessee and returned to Clemson to teach Electrical Engineering for seven years.

While teaching engineering students, Jim enhanced his lectures with stories about lesser known but important inventors and innovators in electricity and electronics of the early twentieth century. This led him to return to school at Case Western Reserve and earn a second masters degree and PhD in the history of science and technology. In 1969, Jim joined the History faculty at Georgia Tech where he taught history of electrical technology until his retirement as Professor Emeritus in 1994.

Jim served twice a chair of the history committee of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (IEEE). He served on the IEEE editorial board for 27 years, contributing more than 200 articles to its Proceedings. He was elected Fellow of IEEE in 1987. His professional recognitions include the IEEE 1984 Centennial Medal, the 1989 Batcher Memorial Prize, the 1971 Usher Prize, and numerous listings in Who's Who in American science and letters. He received research grants from the Smithsonian Institute, the National Park Service and the National Science Foundation. He was involved in archiving the Thomas Edison papers.

Following his retirement and return to Western North Carolina, Jim turned his attention to writing about the history of his native Mills River and Henderson County. He wrote dozens of short articles for the Carolina Villager and the Town of Mills River Newsletters. In 1991, his book, Gunfights, Dam Sites, and Water Rights, added to the extensive literature on the history of Henderson County.

Jim is survived by his loving wife of 44 years, Jo Ann Layne, a native of Charleston, West Virginia. Also surviving are: his sister JoAn Shearin and her companion, Dr. Carl Lane of Clemson, SC; his brother, Jere Brittain and wife Joanne of Mills River; his Aunt Virginia Gillespie of Mars Hill, NC; and numerous nieces, nephews, great nieces and nephews, cousins, and friends.

Recently, Jim and Jo Ann donated a parcel of family land to the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy (now Conserve Carolina), establishing the Randall and Velma Brittain Preserve near the confluence of North and South Forks of Mills River. The property will be used for teaching and research on natural resource conservation.

Services will be private.

An online register book is available for family and friends by visiting www.thosshepherd.com. Thos. Shepherd & Son Funeral Directors and Cremation Memorial Center is in charge of the arrangements.

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I was a colleague of Jim's at Georgia Tech for several years and an admirer of his incredible knowledge of electrical history. He was that rare individual who not only mastered the field of electrical engineering, but emerged as perhaps the foremost scholar of the history of the subject. Upon his retirement he returned to his home state of North Carolina and continued his many contributions to the history of electrical technology and the history of technology more generally. Jim was a...

My sincere condolences for your loss. May God be a source of comfort during this time. Psalms 94:19.

I will always remember Jim talking his hikes and walks all around Carolina Village, bringing back a piece of nature and displaying it on the ledge outside the apartment. His writing of the history of the Mills River area was always something to look forward to reading in the Village Newsletter. Jim was a gracious man and carried his calm and gracious manner with him until the end. Always kind, always unpretentious, he was a good man. He will be missed by many. God bless his family.