John C. Calhoun

Posted: Tue 7:06 AM, Dec 11, 2012
1917 - 2012

On Thursday, November 29, 2012, John C. Calhoun, Jr., passed peacefully from this life to the next at his Texarkana home. He was with his wife of seventy-one years and family.

Dr. Calhoun was born March 21, 1917, in Betula, Pennsylvania, the fifth child of John C. and Mattie Rowe Calhoun. His childhood was filled with music, learning, and family teamwork, as all eight children worked to support their family grocery.

After skipping two grades of public school, he graduated valedictorian and headed to Pennsylvania State University, where he achieved his doctorate as one of the first three petroleum engineers in the United States.

While at Penn State, he met his future wife, fellow student Ruth Elizabeth Huston, whom he married on June 10, 1941. Four children followed, as well as moves across the country as Dr. Calhoun pursued a career in higher education at the University of Oklahoma, Penn State and, for over four decades -- from 1955 until his retirement -- Texas A&M University. At Dr. Calhoun's retirement celebration, he was called the best educator in the state of Texas.

Dr. Calhoun held numerous administrative positions at Texas A&M, beginning there as Dean of the School of Engineering. He was an instigator of significant academic program development for the College Station campus and for the A&M System, as Vice-President for Academic Affairs, and subsequently as Vice Chancellor for Programs. He took a two-year leave of absence to serve in Washington, D.C., as Science Advisor to Secretary of the Interior Stuart Udall in the early1960s. Dr. Calhoun was designated Distinguished Professor Emeritus upon his retirement.

Dr. Calhoun traveled widely, consulting internationally with industry, governments, and international organizations on resource management and education. He was elevated to national leadership positions in a variety of professional engineering associations, and was honored many times over by his peers at all levels of service. Dr. Robert Able, the first director of the National Sea Grant Office once said "He is one of the truly great science administrators in our country... [with] tremendous breadth of vision."

No award or honor mattered as much to him as did his family. Foregoing the more usual hobbies, he proudly asserted that his hobby was his four granddaughters: Jenny, Erin, Carlynn and Emmy.

He joyfully shared with others the gifts of music, a love of learning, and the importance of family. How treasured are the memories of his beautiful baritone renderings of everything from lullabies and nursery songs to Broadway tunes, from the sacred to the secular - whether in solo, or in harmony with family. He knew that life is lacking "without a song," and he wrote many songs that he dedicated to his grandchildren.

Dr. Calhoun was preceded in death by his son, John Huston, his seven brothers and sisters, and his parents. He is survived by his wife and lifelong intellectual partner, Ruth; by three daughters and their spouses: Emily Calhoun and Robert Kerr of Boulder, Colorado, Mary Beth and Larry Towles of Maryville, Tennessee, and Ruth Ellen and David Whitt of Texarkana, Texas; and by four granddaughters, their spouses, and ten great-grandchildren. Also surviving are numerous nieces and nephews around the country who loved their "Uncle Johnny."

Throughout his life Dr. Calhoun played with, worked with, and lived by words, especially those expressed in song. In his retirement, he wrote many "memories" of his childhood. In one, he recalled a hymn that remained with him over the years, words that were sung each week to close Sunday evening family worship: "If I have wounded any soul today, if I have caused one foot to go astray, if I have walked in mine own willful way, Dear Lord, Forgive." His children remember an address delivered at one daughter's high school commencement ceremony. The theme of his talk was taken from the Rodgers and Hammerstein lyric: "You got to have a dream – if you don't have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?" Dr. Calhoun reminded the graduates that dreaming "comes from an optimistic spirit." These words perfectly capture the beliefs and heart of a father, grandfather, and educator who devoted his life to family and to others.

Although given many offers over the years to work in industry at many times his academic salary, Dr. Calhoun felt his greater interests lay with the university, to advance knowledge and to interact with younger learners. For anyone who wishes to honor his memory and legacy in engineering education, contributions may be directed to the TAMU Foundation in Memory of Dr. John C. Calhoun, Jr., Engineering Development Office, 214 Zachry Engineering Center, College Station, TX 77843-3126.

A funeral service for Dr. Calhoun will be held in Texarkana at the chapel of the Williams Memorial Methodist Church on December 26 at 10:00 a.m. Graveside services will be held at 10:00 a.m. on December 27 at the College Station Cemetery. Friends of the family are welcome to attend either service.
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