James McKenna, a Chatham Township resident of more than 50 years, died on February 29, 2020 at the age of 90. He is survived by his wife Jane, son Matthew, daughter Rebecca, and extended family in New England who sorely miss him. Jim was the definition of a gentleman, kind, ethical and the rare combination of intelligence, wit, and warmth.
His childhood years were spent in New Hampshire and he enjoyed his summers with extended family in Maine. An interest in science was exhibited early by being a Westinghouse Science Talent Search Finalist in high school. He earned a B.S. in mathematics at MIT followed by a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. He then served four years in the U.S. Air Force and while there was sent on active duty to MIT for his M.S. degree. Jim completed his formal education with a Ph.D. in mathematics from Princeton University.
While at Princeton, Jim had a Bell Laboratories Fellowship. He joined Bell Telephone Laboratories, first as a member of the technical staff in the Mathematics and Statistics Research Center, and then as Head of the Mathematics of Physics and Network Department. He always felt it a great privilege to be a member of Bell Labs. After 29 years, he retired and joined Bellcore, as Executive Director, Systems Principles Research Department.
Upon retiring Jim spent 13 years as a RISE (Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti) Fellow at Drew University.
His contributions in mathematics earned academic honors for his work at Bell Labs and Bellcore. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), the Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and The Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM).
Jim’s interests outside his scientific work were multifaceted including a love of music, spending many hours at Lincoln Center at the ballet and the NY Philharmonic. He played tennis with a loosely organized group from the labs. Gardening was a life-long interest and escape. After retirement, having more flexible time he and friends would take frequent trips visiting the museums in NY. Then, of course, was his enthusiasm for history, not only U.S., but world history. His family was so fortunate to join him in these pursuits.
His true passion was for his immediate family, extended ones and dear friends. Summers spent in Maine, swimming and canoeing with all his cousins and visiting friends, provided time for all to get together to enjoy each other and the wonderful dinners on the deck. He cherished his New Hampshire family with much of his younger years spent with them. The Kentucky in-laws were a bonus and he thoroughly embraced them and always voiced regrets he didn’t have enough time with them. He loved traveling and learning about other cultures and their history. After retirement the family traveled extensively in Mexico and Central America.
Jim often said, “I am so lucky!” His family feels so lucky to have shared his life.
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