James F. Luhr

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May 13, 1953 - January 1, 2007

James Francis Luhr, 53, of University Park, MD, died peacefully at home on January 1, 2007 of complications from influenza.

A renowned geologist, he was director of the Global Volcanism Program at the Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Jim was a magnet for children and was the fun-loving and devoted father of daughters Sigrid, 17, and Mei-Mei (Kristina), 9. He was married for 20 years to Karen Prestegaard, whom he met at UC Berkeley when both were pursuing doctoral degrees in Geology.

Jim was a passionate scientist, committed to deepening public awareness of scientific discovery. He helped to curate the Museum's enormously popular Hall of Geology, Gems and Minerals; collaborated extensively with Mexican scientists during years of research in that country; and chaired the Museum's mineralogy department for five years. He popularized science in every available media: as editor of the books "Earth" (2004) and "Paricutin: The Volcano Born in a Mexican Cornfield" (1993); in exhibitions; through online and CD-Rom products; and even with a "build your own volcano" kit for children. Among his achievements, Jim contributed to the development of early-warning systems to protect trans-Pacific flights from the effects of volcanic eruptions.

He was creative and resourceful. During one trip to Mexico, his luggage failed to arrive. Rather than slow his research, Jim wrapped his well-worn Birkenstock sandals with newspaper and duct-tape so he could climb the rough terrain.

With his bushy beard, strangers (and friends) often teased that the Ph.D. scientist resembled a member of the band ZZ Top. When his beard began to whiten, strangers began calling out "Hey, Santa!" instead. Jim embraced the new persona, and wore a Santa cap on a Christmas Day flight with his family, to the delight of young passengers.

An accomplished musician, Jim played fiddle for the Greentop Ramblers, a local Irish music group. For the past three years, he was problem-solver-in-chief (aka volunteer president) of Adelphi Pool in Maryland. He was an active member of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring and regularly helped to feed the homeless at Shepherd's Table in Silver Spring. Jim extended his belief in the power of communities to all aspects of his life.

Jim leaves his grieving parents, Robert and Mary Luhr of Grayslake, IL; four brothers, a sister and his Prestegaard family. He grew up in suburban Chicago and earned a B.S. in geology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne.

A Memorial Service will be held at 3 p.m., Saturday, January 6 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Silver Spring, 10309 New Hampshire Ave. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Shepherd's Table (shepherdstable.org), Unitarian Universalists for Social Justice (www.uusj.org) or Heifer International (heifer.org). Contributions to the Luhr girls' college fund may be arranged by e-mailing [email protected]

Arrangements by Gasch's Funeral Home, Hyattsville, Md.

Published in The Washington Post from Jan. 4 to Jan. 5, 2007