James Edward Monson
June 20, 1932 - January 1, 2021
On January 1st, 2021, Jim Monson passed quietly and peacefully at home in Point Reyes, surrounded by his three children and Julie, his wife of 65 years. He led a full life, of teaching, research, caring for his family and volunteering in the communities he lived in.
Born in Oakland, California in 1932, Jim's family moved frequently. His father, Col. George Monson, a Marine, was often transferred because of WWII, from coast to coast, and even to Saipan. Jim attended New Mexico Military Institute, and then Stanford University where he majored in Electrical Engineering, getting his MS degree in 1955.
In 1954, he married Julie Conzelman, also a Stanford student. His first job was with Bell Telephone Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. Deciding to get his PhD, he returned to Palo Alto, and was able to continue his studies and research while working part-time at Hewlett Packard. In 1961, Jim decided to teach and began his academic career at Harvey Mudd College in Claremont in Southern California. Because this small college of Engineering and Science had begun only a few years earlier, Jim and his few colleagues created an innovative curriculum in engineering, with components of the humanities. He remained at Harvey Mudd for 35 years and loved it.
Early in his career at Harvey Mudd, Jim began working with colleagues in industry on the challenges of the evolving technology in magnetic recording. He solved problems and invented solutions, working with engineers from around the world, who worked with Siemans, Mitsubishi, and other international corporations. His travels included annual international conferences (International Magnetics Conference of the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers) and led to numerous connections and friendships, especially in East and West Europe, and Japan. He used his sabbaticals, every 7 years, to teach or do research in Dublin, Montenegro (twice), Japan (twice) and Paris, learning languages along the way.
In 1968, the family discovered Point Reyes, and returned to an A-frame at the top of Vision Road every summer for 20 years. When he and Julie decided to retire, this was where they wanted to live. It was an auspicious choice for both, as they became involved in the community, made many friends, and explored this special corner of Northern California, both the natural beauty of the coastal area and the cultural treasures of San Francisco. An avid birder, Jim has been watching birds for decades and always developed special friendships with others, often retired friends, especially throughout West Marin.
Jim served on the board of Coastal Health Alliance for six years, 2 terms as president; then on the board of West Marin Senior Services, also for six years; and was then appointed to serve on Marin County's Commission on Aging. Again, Jim developed many friendships with his working colleagues. He was always highly respected for his calm, clear thinking, his tolerance and thoughtful manner in handling complex issues.
Because Jim missed his associations with students, he volunteered as a tutor in math and physics at Tomales High School for ten years. His Wednesdays were spent on campus, in the classroom and with after-school tutoring.
Last March, 2020, Jim and his wife, Julie, were honored by the West Marin community for their many local volunteer contributions at the annual Dance Palace Awards Banquet, receiving recognition from state and local elected officials and community leaders.
In the 1960s, the family began regular visits to a spectacular section of the Mojave Desert near Yucca Valley that belonged to Julie's family since 1940. In 1978, they were able to acquire ownership and began a series of improvements to make it more comfortable for frequent family visits. This desert hide-a-way became a family favorite for holiday gatherings.
Jim was an exceptional father to his three children, always supportive, generous, tolerant and kind. He and his wife, Julie, had a long, loving relationship that changed and grew over their years together. He is survived by his wife, Julie, and his three children: John (Susie Helfrey), Jamie Monson and Jennifer Monson; and 4 grandchildren: James Monson, Elizabeth Monson and Eddie Monson, and Jenny Monson-Miller.
Contributions in his honor may be made to the Jim Monson Scholarship in Engineering and Science, c/o Inverness Garden Club, igcscholarships.org