His Life

"Grace to be born and live as variously as possible"

In loving memory of our beloved father, Dr. James John Morgan, who passed away surrounded by family at his home in Altadena, CA on September 19, 2020, at the age of 88, from natural causes. 

James “Jimmie” John Morgan, was born on June 23, 1932, in New York City, a child of hardworking Irish immigrant parents. His father, James “Jemmie” Morgan, and mother, Anna Treanor Morgan, moved back to the Homeland a year after his birth. He spent his early years as a farm boy in Knockballyroney, County Monaghan, Ireland, alongside his sister Anne who was born there. His family returned to New York City in 1938, where he attended parochial Catholic school in the Bronx. Later his family moved to Washington Heights, on the Upper East Side, where he attended P.S. 189 and later Cardinal Hayes High School. He had wanted to get a liberal arts education, studying history, but was not counseled that he needed to study a foreign language to do so. Thus serendipity steered his fate in another direction. 

Blessed with a solid foundation in mathematics and science, James began an illustrious academic career, attending prestigious colleges and universities. He studied Civil Engineering at Manhattan College and the University of Michigan. While in Ann Arbor, MI, he met his lovely wife, fellow graduate student, Jean Laurie McIntosh, whom he married on June 15, 1957. Soon thereafter they started a family and he began teaching at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. James went on Harvard University, to work on his PhD with the renowned aquatic chemist Werner Stumm, whom he referred to as his “doctor father” and became a lifelong friend. While finishing his PhD, he took a job teaching at the University of Florida until 1965, when he was “discovered” by Caltech and offered tenure as a professor of Environmental Engineering. He moved his family to Pasadena, CA, where he and his wife Jean settled into a full and busy life with six children. 

During his Caltech career, he was a “doctor father” to thirty-some PhD students. At age 34, Dr. Morgan became the inaugural editor of Environmental Science and Technology,  a position he held for eight years. He spearheaded groundbreaking work and research on acid rain in the Los Angeles Basin.  In 1970, he and Werner Stumm published the classic text Aquatic Chemistry (2d edition, 1981; 3d edition, 1996). In 1987, he was appointed Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Environmental Engineering Science. He served Caltech administratively both as Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs. In addition to academic research and teaching, he worked as a consultant with several public and private agencies, including the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, to design water treatment plants, and Procter & Gamble, writing code in order to find forms of potentially hazardous compounds in water. 

Dr. Morgan was recognized as one of the world’s most distinguished aquatic chemists. Over his 44-year career, he received many honors for his research, including the Stockholm Water Prize in 1999, sharing the honor with his colleague Dr. Stumm. The very same year he received the Clarke Prize for Water Science and Technology for his lifetime of research in water chemistry. In 2001, while being interviewed for the Caltech Archives about his life and career, Dr. Morgan expressed an interest in finding the origins of water itself. He quoted Saint Francis of Assisi, “Thanks be to God for our sister water who is humble and precious and pure.”

Jim was a Renaissance man, having varied and passionate interests in life. He held an affinity for basketball, playing from ages 15 to 65. He loved to play pickup games with family and friends, including on the half-court in his backyard. He was known to have a wicked jump shot and was very tough to guard! Also for years he played weekly tennis and softball with Caltech colleagues and graduate students. He was a lifelong reader of literature and poetry, having a special fondness for James Joyce and an early appreciation for the New York poet Frank O’Hara, whose epitaph read: “Grace to be born and live as variously as possible.”  He was a lover of music of all kinds, melodies often emanating from his home office as he wrote his lectures or worked on research. Music was central to his enjoyment of life! He had the unique talent to whistle a tune on key and sing lyrics from old songs. Jim loved the Irish ‘Craic’ - good company and witty banter - traveling far and near to connect with old friends, fellow academics, and loved ones, making it many times to visit his sister Anne in New York and Irish kin in the Homeland. 

James Morgan was preceded in death this past June by his beautiful wife, Jean Laurie McIntosh Morgan, and is survived by the legacy of his large family, firstly his six children: Jenny Tumas, Johanna Morgan, Eve Morgan Fletcher, Michael Joseph Morgan, Martha Morgan, and Sarah Morgan-Arnold. Also he is survived by his loving sister Anne Thompson, and his nieces Terri Thompson Mink and Dana Thompson Sullivan. He was affectionately known as Opa to his grandchildren Aistis, Aidan, Aelwyn, Zoe, Eliah, Sidra, Morgan, Avery, Emily, and Theo, and known as Great-Opa to Audra, Alden, and Betty. Our hearts are broken and he will live on in our memories forever. 

A memorial service will be held at a later date when friends and family can gather safely.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to The Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters
or the American Chemical Society, which recognizes the contributions of early-career researchers through the James J. Morgan ES&T Early Career Award. 



Dr. James Morgan, Caltech Archives Interview, 1999

Interview in 1999 with James J. Morgan, Marvin L. Goldberger Professor of Environmental Engineering Science, emeritus. Born in New York City to Irish immigrant parents, Morgan was raised in County Monaghan, Ireland, during the Depression. He studied civil engineering at Manhattan College, received a master’s degree from the University of Michigan in environmental health engineering with C. J. Velz (1956), and after three years as an instructor at the University of Illinois took his PhD at Harvard in 1964 with the water chemist Werner Stumm. Morgan came to Caltech in 1965 to join the environmental engineering science program in the Division of Engineering and Applied Science, where he worked on manganese chemistry in water and the use of polyelectrolytes in water treatment. Recollections of colleagues Jack McKee, Sheldon Friedlander, Norman Brooks, and the early years of the environmental engineering science program. In 1966 he became first editor of the American Chemical Society’s journal Environmental Science and Technology. Recalls stint on Caltech’s Freshman Admissions Committee and as dean of students in the early 1970s. Coauthored Aquatic Chemistry with Werner Stumm. Comments on his consulting for industry and government in the 1970s. Becomes vice president for student affairs (1980-1989). Recalls postdocs and students, including François Morel, James Pankow, Alan Stone, Howard Liljestrand, Yigal Erel, Windsor Sung. Awarded 1999 Stockholm Water Prize jointly with Werner Stumm (d. April 1999). In an epilogue to this interview, Morgan describes his trip to Stockholm to accept the award on behalf of Stumm and himself and his receipt that year of the Clarke Prize of the National Water Research Institute.

Caltech Memorial

James (Jim) J. Morgan, an environmental scientist who previously served as Caltech's dean of students and later as vice president for student affairs, passed away on September 19 at the age of 88.
A full memorial story will follow at a later date.