In Memoriam: Jim Tiles, D.Phil. (1944-2014)

 Jim Tiles

Dr James (Jim) Tiles, was the other half of Dr Mary Tiles to whom he was married for almost 45 years and who will be incomplete without him.  A US citizen, he first came to the UK in 1966 as a Marshal Scholar to study Mathematics and Philosophy at the University of Bristol.  His doctorate was from the University of Oxford (Balliol).  He taught Philosophy at the University of Reading until 1989 and then at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa until he retired in 2010.  He was a dedicated, conscientious and very patient teacher who continued to work, after settling in Winchester and Micheldever, as a private mathematics tutor and as volunteer mathematics assistant at the Peter Symonds ACE centre.   He was also an active volunteer member of the Army Training Regiment (Winchester) Independent Advisory Panel.  However, like his father, he also loved to make things – mostly from wood – and was never happier than when in his workshop.  He walked, cycled, dug the allotment and even did the ironing (but drew the line at cooking).

On the evening of January 13th, 2014, Jim Tiles, author of several highly regarded books and a professor in our department for twenty years, suddenly died—apparently of an aneurysm. Mary Tiles, Jim’s wife, and herself a former professor in our department for two decades, received many messages of support and appreciation from Jim’s former students and colleagues. We include here, in commemoration of Jim’s enormous contributions to our philosophy program, one of those messages—the one that Mary thought might best represent the outpouring of appreciation.

Dear Mary,

As I’m sure you will hear many times from his students, Jim was a remarkably generous mentor and teacher to us.  He cared deeply about our improvement and about the quality of our work.  He always pushed me, and inspired me, to do better than I thought I could do.  He greatly improved me as a philosopher.  I really have no words to express the gratitude that I feel.

Jim’s courses were simply terrific, every one.  His single-author seminars especially were just priceless experiences for me.  I read Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas with Jim.  The enthusiasm that he brought to those meetings was so infectious, so immersing, and so rare.  I remember buying my 5-volume set of the Summa Theologica and being so excited.  Thinking back on it now: in such an age as this, where so few people care to read at all, to have had such experiences with great philosophical literature.  It’s special.  Jim made it special.

I always admired Jim.  He exemplified a singular dedication and commitment as a teacher.  I loved writing papers for him, knowing that he would attend so carefully to what I was trying to say.  While working on my dissertation in Beijing, I would wait for his responses to each chapter knowing that they would be decisive for determining the strength of what I had done.  He would send pages and pages of notes and comments.  I wonder now if I took it all for granted.  We often do that in the face of steady generosity.  That was Jim: his generosity was like a natural reflex.

I remember the last time that I saw him.  It was ten years ago.  I was at Kalamazoo College, my first “real job.”  He was paying a family visit in the area and looked me up.  He said he would stop by my office on campus and say hello.  His call was out of the blue, and we had such a delightful visit together.  We talked about Hawaii things, but most of all he wanted to hear about my job and talk about my future plans.  That was an exciting time in my life.

When it came time for him to leave, I learned that he had walked all the way to the College, several miles – I don’t remember how many, but it was a considerable distance.  It was hot and muggy outside, really uncomfortable.  I must have suggested a cab.  “No, no, no,” he said, with a huge smile on his face, “I love the walk!”  And off he went.

Please know, Mary, that you are in my thoughts.

Jim Behuniak