Jesse Clopton James was born on February 29, 1924, in Florence, Alabama, to Edward Newman and Ira Belle Denton James. He passed from this life into the arms of Jesus on April 11, 2019, living over 95 years and celebrating 23 birthdays.
The oldest of six children, Jesse grew up in the East Florence community of Sweetwater where in high school he worked at the local fertilizer for 15 cents an hour. He recalled, however, that the hardest work he ever did was in his mother’s large garden where he also fed the hogs, milked the cow, and on Saturdays drew water by hand out of the 104-foot well.
Working at the fertilizer plant provided some opportunities for the young engineer-to-be. He would collect small discarded wires to create many devices including electrical motors, relays, and solenoids. He once developed an anti-theft device for the family’s 1941 Chevrolet, which sounded the horn if the car was disturbed before disabling the unit with a switch under the dash. His father would forget about the alarm and finally, being embarrassed too many times, ripped it out completely. Jesse also built and installed a circuit that turned on the family’s porch light when the doorbell was rung.
Jesse, or Clopton as his family called him, graduated from Florence’s Coffee High School in 1941. He served in the Army Air Corps at the onset of WWII. While training to be a fighter pilot, he developed a serious illness, was hospitalized for months, and was honorably discharged. With combat survival rates for fighter pilots fairly low at the time, that illness may have worked to his future children’s advantage.
Jesse attended Auburn University, earning BS degrees in electrical engineering in 1945 and in engineering physics in 1946. While at Auburn, Jesse went out for football at the urging of the coach for more players as (so many men were gone during the war years). After getting mowed down by the first team for two weeks, Jesse decided he had done his duty and retired from football.
On September 27, 1947, Jesse Clopton married the love of his life, Barbara Brown Hayman in Jemison, Alabama. Together they were blessed with four children: Jeb Stuart, Jerry Hayman, Emily Caroline, and Barbara Kate.
Jesse received MA degree in nuclear physics in 1950 from Rice University and a PhD in electrical engineering and physics in 1958 at Georgia Tech. During these years, he worked for Southern Research Institute in many areas of analysis, design, and experimental fieldwork, as well as for the US Navy and Army.
Jesse had an extensive and distinguished carrier. Following graduation from Georgia Tech, he moved the family to Lexington, Massachusetts to join MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory. In 1961, MIT moved the Jameses to El Campo, Texas, where for nine years Jesse’s research group did ground breaking study of Venus, Mars and the sun. In the 1960s, he was the first to discover liquid water below the surface of Mars using radio waves. He loved his time in radar astronomy and once remarked to a reporter that “Astronomical radar studies may help to explain how God created the universe. A description of astronomical bodies is to many people as much a thing of beauty as looking at the stars from the heart of Texas.”
In 1970, MIT sent the James family to Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands where Jesse helped develop the government’s anti-ballistic missile system. While on Kwajalein, he became an accomplished scuba diver and sailor, once sailing solo hundreds of miles across open ocean in a small boat to visit isolated islands. Following years in the development of our nation’s defense with MIT, McDonnell Douglas, and Teldyne Brown Engineering, he managed the Harvard Radio Astronomy Station near Fort Davis, Texas.
Jesse wrote many chapters for technical books and authored 22 papers in scientific journals. He holds 12 patents plus another invention involving a stealth technique for planes and missiles for which a patent cannot be issued due to security classification.
He finally retired at the age of 82, but continued to work at tree farming and woodworking, with many family and friends enjoying fine furniture pieces lovingly created by him. He did extensive family tree research before the age of the internet, visiting countless courthouse records and graveyards to write many volumes on the family tree. At 92, he authored and published ‘The Bible: Two Proofs and Two Mis-Translations” in which he argued for his strong belief that the Bible and proved science agree.
Above all his scientific accomplishments, Jesse believed that faith in God was the most important thing. He spent years teaching Bible classes and was involved in a Christian prison ministry. He credited all his life’s success to following Christ and his greatest desire was that his family also lives a life devoted to Jesus.
Jesse Clopton loved family reunions and is now enjoying a heavenly one with his father, mother, sister Vera Viola, brothers Malcolm Wallace, Bryson Lemoine, Edward Ira (E.I.), granddaughter Natalie Caroline, and the many aunts, uncles, cousins, and their spouses who passed before him.
He is survived by his wife of 71+ years, Barbara, brother Graham Farris James and wife Clara, son Jeb and wife Laurie Ann, son Jerry and wife Laurie, and daughters Emily Barkley and Kate Bernsen. Jesse is also survived by 9 grandchildren and so far 11 great-grandchildren, along with many nephews, nieces, cousins, great nephews and nieces, and all their spouses.
Jesse Clopton and Barbara were faithful members of the church of Christ all of their married life, even helping to found a congregation in Massachusetts. In recent years the couple worshipped at the Madison Church of Christ.
The funeral service will be 11 a.m., Monday, April 15, 2019 at Madison Church of Christ, Madison, AL. The interment will be 3:30 p.m. at Rock Creek Cemetery, Colbert County, AL.