In memoriam: Jim Rife

Jim Rife rides. Photo: Tom Nicol

Former Fermilab employee Jim Rife died on March 18 of cancer. He worked as a technician in the Applied Physics and Superconducting Technology Division. Below are five remembrances from his friends and colleagues.

In lieu of flowers, send memorials to the donor’s charity of choice. Some suggestions are the American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association or the Crohns and Colitis Foundation.

Read Rife’s obituary.


From young tech to manager

Jim Rife started with Fermilab in late 1980 as a young tech working on conventional magnets in Industrial Building 2. As the lab grew Jim transferred to the Energy Doubler project where he played an essential role as the lead tech on the production floor involved with the dipole and quadrupole magnet assemblies. With the completion of the Doubler, Jim moved on, eventually heading up the LHC production for the new CERN accelerator, in charge of the production in ICB. Since the completion of the LHC, Jim became a big asset to the LCLS-II project managing the control of parts and quality assurance for production.

Jim was well liked by everyone he came in contact with. He was very knowledgeable about the ways of the lab and a valuable resource dedicated to giving his best on every project. Jim was not only a valuable employee, he was a great friend and loving husband and father. He will truly be missed by all.

—Glenn Smith, Fermilab


Rife finds time to chill with a chicken in ICB. Photo: Tom Nicol

Asset, mentor, friend

Jim started to work in the APS-TD SRF Cryomodule Assembly Group in 2016 as the supply chain manager for the LCLS-II cryomodule production. Thanks to Jim’s excellent contribution, the LCLS-II production floor always received the needed qualified parts in time. Jim was a great asset to the group not only with his professional contributions, but also as a mentor for many of his peers and young technicians, all of whom looked up to him. It was a pleasure to work with Jim. He was a great friend to all of us. We will miss him.

Tug Arkan, Fermilab


Competent worker, cooperative colleague, compassionate friend

I worked with Jim for about the last 10 years. He was a member of my SRF cavity performance group and then became the supply chain coordinator for my cryomodule group on the LCLS-II project. Anytime you asked Jim to do something, he would first clarify any questions he had and possibly make necessary adjustments, and then he would just get it done. You never had to remind him about anything. He had a way of working with people, and he could convince them to do what they needed to do. He was refreshingly direct, yet always polite and always fair. He proactively let me know if there were problems looming and had great judgment for what I needed to know. He was so easy to work with, and such a nice guy, such a good guy.

Tom Page, Jim Rife and Tom Nicol gather around an LHC magnet. Photo: Tom Nicol

Jim had been in remission from cancer for a long time, but he never took it for granted. I took it for granted, but he never did. He knew life was short, and he appreciated it every day. It was evident in how he treated people. It was inspiring how he valued his family, especially his wife and his new grandson. When I talked to him shortly before he passed away, he was philosophical. He was so saddened by the passing just a few days earlier of his close friend, Jeff. Maybe this was a deflection, but it seemed pretty typical for him to be thinking of others rather than himself. This world has lost a fine person, and I lost a friend. I will miss him.

Camille Ginsburg, Jefferson Lab, formerly of Fermilab


Clever and quick on his feet

I worked most closely with Jim for 10 years on the LHC Accelerator Project and in total for nearly 20 years. On the LHC, there will be many who have or will win awards and prizes and such. But Jim is a big reason the LHC even exists.

Over the course of his career, Jim had an unerring way of taking what scientists and engineers thought they wanted to do and turning it into what could actually be done. He did this with a kindness, patience, honesty and great sense of humor, which was desperately needed given some of the personalities involved at times. Jim’s humanity crossed nations: colleagues from France, Switzerland, Italy and Japan, to name a few, came to know and trust Jim. Even colleagues from Berkeley and Brookhaven liked him!

Rife takes pictures of sunflowers. Photo: Tom Nicol

One story rather captures Jim: Former DOE Office of Science Director Ray Orbach was on a tour of Fermilab and came to visit ICB during the LHC production days. It may have been the first shipment celebration or something around that time. Anyway, it turned out the hinge of Dr. Orbach’s glasses had broken or the screw had fallen out or something like that, and it was really distracting him. On no notice, I asked Jim to see if he could fix the glasses, which he did in about five minutes, making the rest of the visit go MUCH better. I remember that they ran into each other some months or years later, and the first thing Dr. Orbach said was, “Hey, you’re the guy that fixed my glasses!” I think that just kind of sums up Jim. He got things done, kindly, and people knew it.

Jim was a wonderful person. We kept in touch after I left the lab, and it was always good to talk to him no matter the subject. He will be sorely missed.

—Jim Kerby, Argonne, formerly of Fermilab


Travel companion

Jim Rife (far right) and friends enjoy the Alps on a visit to CERN. Photo: Tom Nicol

I had known Jim a long time before we started working together on the high-gradient interaction region quadrupoles in 1997, part of our collaboration with CERN for the LHC, but came to know him well only during that time. He was responsible for all our magnet production in the Industrial Center Building, overseeing production, managing his technician crew, and helping all of us involved, no matter our role or what we needed. His knowledge of all aspects of the work we did and his kind and giving nature made him a true pleasure to work with. It was fun talking with him about a job, neither of us knowing how to do it, then walking away, coming back later and finding it done perfectly. No matter what.

Late in the LHC project our work took us to CERN many times so that we could work with their engineers, scientists, and technicians on magnet repairs, interconnect assembly, and tunnel installation. Many of those trips required us to be there two or three weeks at a time. We worked hard during the week and every weekend day would pick a place to visit for the day. We saw some amazing places together, had a lot of fun and became fast friends – a friendship that would last the rest of his life. We often joked that “What happens at CERN, stays at CERN!”. I will do my best to honor that promise. Memories of those trips, working and traveling with Jim, are without question the highlights of my 43 years working at Fermilab, and my friendship with him is one of the greatest blessings of my life.

—Tom Nicol, Fermilab