Beloved Professor Emeritus Passes

James Llewellyn Thorson (Jim Thorson to his family, friends and students) passed away on April 5, 2023. Thorson was a Professor of English and American Literature at the University of New Mexico from 1965 until his retirement in 2002. He was born in Yankton, SD on January 7, 1934, the son of James A Thorson and Doris Burgi Thorson. He spent his school years in De Smet, SD. He then attended The University of Nebraska in Lincoln on a Navy ROTC scholarship. After graduating with a BS in mathematics education in 1956, he served as an officer in the US Navy for three years before returning to Lincoln where he earned a MA in English and American literature in 1961 before entering the PhD program at Cornell University. After earning his doctorate, he joined the English faculty at UNM in 1965. He spent his career at UNM and was always sure that it was the perfect school for him. During his years at UNM he was very active in faculty politics. He was also active in the American Association of University Professors at the local, state, and national level, spending a three-year term on its National Council in the late 1990s.

Thorson had two major research and publication interests. In English literature he concentrated on Restoration and 18th-Century English literature. In American literature his great interest was Native American literature, a passion born and nurtured in New Mexico. Over the years he was pleased that he had the opportunity to introduce many faculty and students, during his semesters teaching in Europe, to the beauties of Native American poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Most recently he relished introducing students and faculty at Akaki Tsereteli University in Kutaisi, Georgia, to the writings of Joy Harjo, Leslie Silko, Scott Momaday, and others over several visits.

Thorson married Dr. Connie Capers on June 6, 1970. Together they travelled extensively in Europe, both Western and Eastern, for fifty years. Their interest in Eastern Europe stemmed from Jim’s first teaching Fulbright at the University Cyril i Metodius in Skopje, Macedonia, Yugoslavia for the 1971-72 academic year. During his career he was awarded five Fulbright teaching awards at German universities. After retirement, both Jim and Connie received Fulbright Senior Scholar awards and taught in Minsk, Belarus, for the 2005-06 academic year. He enjoyed a year as Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University as well as lecturing at many European universities.

Jim came from a large South Dakota family and is the last of his generation. He is survived by many remarkable nephews and nieces. In recent years he enjoyed a particularly close relationship with nephew James R Thorson and his wife Connie, and their twin daughters Patricia and Alison as well as niece Barbara Wahl Christianson and her husband David E Christianson and their family.

There will be a Memorial Service later in the year. Anyone wishing to make a donation in his memory should consider sending it to the UNM Foundation for the English Department Fund.

Read the University in the Republic of Georgia’s tribute to Jim Thorson in their Newsletter of Kutaisi Newport International Association.