Jim Knighton, a computer science professor at Glendale Community College, died on May 11 in his La Crescenta home with his family by his side. He was 62.
Knighton died from colon cancer, a disease he had been fighting for three years.
Knighton was born in Los Angeles, and raised in Lathrup Village, Mich. He spent time educating himself through travel, and graduated from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, Canada, with a bachelor’s degree in general studies in 1975.
In 1978, Knighton began work with the U.S. Space Program. He worked at the Johnson Space Center and helped prepare space shuttle Columbia for its first orbital flight.
He then returned to Southern California and worked for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena. His duties included building computing networks supporting data sharing between international scientists.
Knighton became an international expert on digital mapping . His maps have appeared in numerous publications, including National Geographic, Scientific American and Discover magazines, as well as atlases in the U.S., Europe and Asia.
Knighton became a professor of computer science and information systems at GCC in 1991. A popular teacher with both faculty and students, he won the Teacher of the Year award in 1999.
“He didn’t really teach computer science. He taught about life,” said his wife Barbara, who was married to Knighton for 30 years.
Barbara described his teaching style as one that adapted the curriculum to the individual.
Larry Hitterdale, a colleague of Knighton’s in the computer science department, echoed Barbara’s sentiments. “He personalized instruction to the student,” Hitterdale said.
Hitterdale also recognized Knighton’s impact on students. “The students thought he was wonderful.”
But Hitterdale said what really made Knighton a popular personality was the way he dealt with not only his students, but his coworkers as well.
“He was a person that accepted people as they were,” said Hitterdale, noting that despite his expertise, Knighton did not look down at anyone. “He was not a pretentious person. He did not ever brag about what he had done.
“He didn’t ever use [his knowledge] to put himself in a superior position or try and put down anyone else, and that’s not always the case with people that have some type of special skill.”
Barbara described Knighton as someone who “was always asking questions. He was always challenging the accepted wisdom, and that’s what he wanted people around him to do.”
Barbara shared that Knighton was unconventional, and said that he would not drive to work, but rather ride his bike from their home in La Crescenta. “It would be easy going downhill,” Barbara said. “Then coming back, it’s uphill all the way. He did that every day.”
But most of all, Barbara said that her husband loved his students as much as they loved him.
“We’d go out to restaurants and places and everywhere we went we would run into students of his that would come up and shake his hand,” Barbara recalled. “That always gave him so much pleasure.”
The GCC Business Division is currently planning a memorial scholarship fund that will start awarding students in June 2010.
Aside from his wife Barbara, Knighton is survived by his three sons Skye, Aren and Taylor, his sister Joan, and his brothers Robert, George and Tom.
A memorial service was held May 16 at the Church of the