Remembering Jimmy: Students mourn death of James Johnston ’11

In describing James “Jimmy” Johnston ’11, all family and friends could agree that, no matter the situation, he always knew how to bring a smile to everyone’s face. With great sadness, the precious memory of Jimmy’s smile is now all they have to hold onto.

On July 6 at the youthful age of 23, the life of the senior materials science major was cut short. Found in his family’s swimming pool in Chester Township, N. J., he was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead a mere half an hour later. The cause of death was determined to be drowning.

“The loss of a student is a very difficult event for a university community to experience,” wrote Vice President for Strategic Communications and External Relations William N. Walker in an e-mail to the Rensselaer community on July 8 regarding Jimmy’s death.

The loss of Jimmy, valued member of the Science Fiction Association and treasurer of the Rensselaer Games Club, has certainly shaken up the lives of those that knew him.

“I remember one particular night after a terrible day of tests, I hadn’t eaten anything all day and wasn’t feeling my greatest. Jimmy was the only person who recognized the stress I was under and offered to drive me out to get some food. We spent the time talking and laughing about all of life’s little stupid mysteries. I thanked him that night, but I’m not sure he knew just how much it had meant to me. I will miss you so much Jimmy,” shared Nicholas Milano ’10.

Sweet stories about Jimmy have been floating around to preserve the memory of the vibrant young man. One way people have been sharing their sentiments is through a Facebook group called “Remembrance of Jimmy Johnston,” dedicated to the memory of their family member, student, and friend. In the group’s discussion section there is a “Memories” thread, a compilation of funny stories, sympathetic thoughts, and joyful recollections of time spent with Jimmy.

Among the plethora of messages coated with the words “I miss you,” Claire Jackson, a friend of Jimmy, recalls his comforting nature.

“Jimmy always seemed to have a way of understanding you even when you didn’t quite understand yourself. He was able to make you feel like you weren’t alone, and when you had a problem he would be able to help calm you down without making you feel like someone was judging you or looking down on you. He was always a lot of fun to be around …”

Another friend, Dan Elton ’10, reminisces: “He was such a unique person, I will never forget him, especially his unique sense of humor. He would always bring smiles to the faces of those around him.”

Jimmy’s family set up visitation hours on July 11 at the William J. Leber Funeral Home in their town for those who wanted to pay final respects. A private funeral service was held the following day.

To his college friends, it may feel like something is missing during the upcoming semester without seeing Jimmy’s smiling face throughout campus. Jimmy is surely missed by the Rensselaer community, but his presence will be kept alive through the valuable memories of experiences and moments shared with him.