James F. Luhr


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 by The Washington Post from Jan. 4 to Jan. 5, 2007.
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15 Entries

I just learned that Jim passed away. Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened. I always loved seeing Jim ride his bike around UP. Whenever I would talk to him, whether at Greenwood or the pool, I would always leave enlightened or laughing--sometimes both.

You and the girls are in our hearts and prayers.

Douglas Desjardins
January 17, 2007
My deepest Sympathy to all Jim's family .I knew Jim from are days in grammer school together
Jim Virginelli
January 14, 2007
Hello Karen,

I arrived home last night from a trip to Baja California to hear the sad news. I am so sorry for you, Sigrid and Mei-Mei....and for the rest of us who valued Jim as a truly wonderful person, friend, and colleague.

Jim always had me in stitches, laughing at his humorous view of life. He was such a good person and such a great geologist. My fondest memories of Jim come from a wonderful trip down to southern Baja California in January 1981 with Jim, Jamie Allan, and Toshi Hasenaka. These three joined me for the beginning of a field season in Baja after which they continued via ferry boat across the Gulf to Colima. During the trip we had many adventures and shared wonderful campfires under the clear Baja night skies. We toured the outcrops around La Paz and Jim was generous in his insights about the volcanic strata that I was beginning to study. His comments opened my eyes to several features helped me in many, many ways.

He was a great and kind man and I can only imagine how much he meant to you. We will all miss him.

Your old pal,
Brian Hausback
Brian Hausback
January 12, 2007
Dear Karen,
Our sincere condolences to you and your daughters on such a sad ocassion. All of you will be in our thoughts and prayers. You can be sure that Jim was most appreciated- he brought enthusiasm, intelligence and joy to all he worked with on the church Endowment committee. He will be missed. After we moved away he continued our dialogue which was really nice. He was such a terrific & supportive friend.
Anne & Tom Thorward
Fullerton CA
Anne Thorward
January 11, 2007
condolences from all of us here at UIC. We remember Jim fondly and are
greatly saddened by this unexpected and too soon loss.
Roy Plotnick
January 10, 2007
Karen--Jim's Memorial Service and the strong attendance was surely a fitting tribute to a truly special man! Jim radiated kindness and his untimely death is hard to grasp. My strongest memories of him are his daily bicycle trips to pick up Mei-Mei at UPES and his constant vigil at the pool. They are peaceful and comforting images--like the man, himself. Because he had such a good and noble soul, he will be remembered and revered for a very long time--certainly for all the contributions he made to this world, but more importantly for the way he lived his life! I can't think of a better legacy. Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Sigrid and Mei-Mei.

The Gast-Dudinsky Family
Lynn, Katherine & Michael Dudinsky and
Linda Gast
January 10, 2007
Karen, I'm just back from the land that Jim loved- Mexico- and while checking voice mail from the Charlotte airport this evening, heard the terrible news. I'm deeply saddened for you and your daughters, and am myself immersed in a swirling of many good memories and a lot of sadness. I'm really sorry to have missed the ceremony- Tom Simkin told me tonight it was a wonderful service, reflecting how many lives that Jim had touched. He more than touched mine, and there isn't a day that goes by that I'm not grateful for his mentorship and friendship.
James Allan
January 7, 2007
I was saddened to hear of the loss of your husband. It sounds like he was an interesting and caring man. You and your girls take care.
Michael Ingram
January 6, 2007
Although Jim is no longer here, his love and his spirit will be with you always. We understand your sorrow and will continue to hold you all in our thoughts in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Corinne, Amelia, and Martin Stevenson
January 5, 2007
Please know that the thoughts and prayers of USGS colleagues are with your and the girls.
Jane Hammarstrom
January 5, 2007
We will miss Jim and his cheerful presence around town. He was a kind and caring person and had many friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this most difficult time.
Phin, Mary, Libby, Ellen and Mikey Baugher
January 5, 2007
Please consider contributing your memories of Jim to memory books for his family at the memorial service or via email. Funny moments, back in the day stories, lyrics or poems, stories from his professional life, silly and serious stuff--gather your thoughts and look for the Memory Book table. We will provide paper and pen. If you are unable to attend, just email your thoughts to [email protected] and they will be added to the books. However you decide to contribute, please sign your memory and provide a bit of identification--friend, neighbor, fellow volunteer, colleague, pool member, softball team parent--whatever is appropriate. Photos are also welcome. Thank you.
Bridget Warren
January 5, 2007
Our prayers are with you. Peace.

Janet Moreland and Miguel and Kristiana Jarquin-Moreland
Janet Moreland
January 5, 2007
Our community will miss Jim and his spirit. Our thoughts and prayers are with you Karin, Sigrid and Mei-Mei.
Kimberly & Charlie Nugent
January 4, 2007
The Sprinkle Family
(Rob and Ann and, from CYC days, Alice and Andy).
4312 Clagett Road
University Park, MD 20782
Rob Sprinkle
January 4, 2007
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