Carl Jennings Rigney,

by David Rigney

Carl Rigney always looked forward to attending meetings of the Men's Book Club, and he particularly enjoyed the company and thoughtful discussions of its members. He passed away on August 1, 2011, after a full and service-oriented life of 86 years. He was born on July 28, 1925, to Carl Monroe and Mavour Lavilla Fulbright Rigney in Port Arthur, Texas, where he grew up. The attending physician at his birth was his mother's brother, Carl White Fulbright, who would play a significant role in young Carl's life, as described below.

Carl's mother was born in Yellow Pine, Louisiana, where his grandfather was in the timber business. When the forest around Yellow Pine played out, the family moved to Doucette, near Woodville, Texas, where his grandfather became the surveyor for a Kansas City timber conglomerate, the Long-Bell Lumber Company. When the forest near Woodville began to play out, the company asked his grandfather to move to California to work the hardwood forests near the Oregon border. But he declined the offer and, instead, moved to Port Arthur to establish a family-run grocery store.

Carl's parents got to know one another in connection with the grocery business, because Carl's dad, Carl Monroe Rigney, was a produce dealer. Both of Carl's parents had also grown up surrounded by the lumber business. Carl's dad had been born and raised in and around Warren, Texas, where his father's dad was a schoolteacher, owned a lumberyard in Kirbyville, and was a member of the fraternal/service organization for forest-related occupations, the Order of Hoo-Hoo. But when Carl's paternal grandfather caught tuberculosis, he moved to Colorado for therapy, and the grandfather and father started a business shipping produce to one another.

Carl's childhood coincided with the Great Depression and its associated difficulties. When Carl was young, the family moved to Alexandria, Louisiana, where Carl's dad took a job as a bookkeeper in one of the mills of the Arkansas Oak Flooring Company, which was owned by his mother's oldest brother, Clarence Fulbright. The mill was closed in 1932, and the family moved back to Port Arthur, where his dad was fortunate even to get a less-than-suitable job in an oil refinery. The economic uncertainty and poor working conditions put much stress on his father, and his parents soon separated, never to be reconciled.

So Carl grew up as the only male in the house, along with his mother and two sisters, Cathron and Mary. Carl's mother studied in Port Arthur at what today would be called a community college, in preparation for a career in office work. For much of his childhood, Carl's closest male role model was his uncle, the independent-minded, tobacco-chewing, outdoor-loving bachelor physician who had attended his birth. His uncle spent much of his medical career treating the many eye injuries experienced by workers in the unsafe oil refineries in and around Port Arthur. Like the rest of his immediate family, his uncle was the product of the culture of his own youth, which was rural-small town, nativist and Southern Baptist. His family had espoused the Democratic populism of William Jennings Bryant and Prohibition, and Carl's mother never lost those habits of thought. In fact, Carl's parents named him Carl JENNINGS Rigney after William Jennings Bryan -- champion of the common man and woman against the abuses of the wealthy, big corporations and banks; and activist for the Social Gospel as the religious wing of the progressive movement for combating injustice, suffering and poverty in society.

But the uncle lost the fundamentalist aspect of his religion through an education leading to a medical degree. He also lost some of the nativism through exposure to the more urban, industrialized life of Port Arthur, where he witnessed first-hand the industrial abuse of his refinery-worker patients. Eventually, the uncle even supported the progressive/socialist policies of presidential candidate Henry Wallace. This was in contrast to another uncle, Clarence, who made a fortune by liquidating his property before the stock market crash and then buying distressed property on the cheap during the Depression. Clarence's politics evolved far to the right, and he became the most politically influential member of the Fulbright clan in Arkansas, before the ascendancy of his scholarly, internationalist relative, U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright.

In addition to the influences of his immediate and extended family, the culture of Port Arthur itself had a formative influence on Carl. Port Arthur was a planned city, founded only near the end of nineteenth century by railroad tycoon Arthur Stillwell, and developed largely by his acquaintance, John Warne "Bet-a-Million" Gates, who had accumulated wealth through his barbed wire, steel, and railroad companies. The city had been conceived as a deep-sea port for the shipment of goods originating in the midwest. But its rapid growth was actually fueled by the oil industry following the 1901 oil gusher at nearby Spindletop, which had been financed in part by Gates. By the time of Carl's birth, Port Arthur had developed into a model city during the era of progressivism. Cultural and artistic institutions had been established in the city. And there was an emphasis on good government and the promotion of moral standards, which went hand-in-hand with the religious institutions of the city. Demographically, the city was less provincial than other places in Texas, because it was located at the confluence of the Piney Woods to the north, Cajun country to the east, and Gulf coast country to the southwest. When migrants from those areas intermingled with the founding northerners, oil-business fortune hunters, immigrants from the Netherlands, and the black and white descendants of the Old South, the residents were exposed to the ideas and traditions of quite a few subcultures.

As befitted a progresssive model city, the public schools in Port Arthur were notable for their quality and innovation. They generated true originals such as Carl's schoolmate, the artist Robert (Milton) Rauschenberg, who contributed his then-amateur artistic skills to many poster and creative school committees. Carl appreciated and responded to the dedication and guidance of his teachers, first at DeQueen Elementary School and later at Woodrow Wilson Junior High and Thomas Jefferson High School. Every year, sixth graders at the elementary school put on a Gilbert and Sullivan production. During Carl's sixth grade, they produced The Mikado, and Carl had the part of Nanki-Poo. For the rest of his life, Carl would break out singing comic opera (such as, "What never?, No never. What never? Well ... hardly ever! Hardly ever swears a big, big D", etc.).

In junior high, Carl started working after-school jobs -- as a paperboy, at an ice house, and as an usher at a movie theater. He studied art with a private teacher and was awarded honorable mention at the South Texas State Fair for an oil painting. He was the co-editor of his school magazine and won a national award for an article submitted to the 1939-40 American Youth Forum competition. And his talent for science and engineering first emerged when he started building radios from spare parts. His high school education was shortened because of the war, as follows. He was able to study the normal high school courses for the first two years, in which he took a particular interest in the math classes. But college-eligible students were asked to complete the last year of high school in a single semester, in order to enroll in college straight away for the war effort. During the autumn of his last year in high school, he had teachers for chemistry and non-science courses. But he had to learn high school physics and mechanical drafting on a self-study basis, receiving credit after taking only an examination. That spring, he enrolled as an engineering major at the University of Texas. The Adams Extract Company was located near campus, and he lived in that company's boarding house in exchange for work such as pasting labels onto bottles.

After a semester at the University of Texas, Carl did his undergraduate studies at the University of Louisville, because he had by then entered the Navy's V-12 program for the production of technically trained personnel, and Louisville was in that program. He transferred there from Mercer University in Georgia (where he had been originally assigned by the Navy) because it was better in his major at the time, engineering. Also, his cousin and close friend, Claude Almand, with a doctorate in music composition from the Eastman School, was in Louisville. Carl had almost finished his undergraduate studies when the war ended abruptly in August 1945. The Navy then proceeded to shut down the V-12 program and the follow-on midshipmen training program that V-12 graduates would have attended. So, Carl was commissioned into the Navy directly as an ensign and ordered to report to the U.S.S. Alabama. The Alabama's mission at that point was to ready itself for dry-dock. Carl was put in charge of the ship's electrical system. Ordinarily, when a ship at sea reached port, there would be a temporary blackout when the ship's onboard electrical system was shut down, before it was then connected to the land-side power system. Carl impressed his superiors by devising a method to make the shut-down and land-side electrical connection seamlessly, without incurring the blackout. His only other navy story is this -- when Carl was officer of the deck one day, the ship experienced an earthquake in Bremerton, Washington, and he had to determine that there was no significant damage to the battleship. Shortly thereafter, Carl was put on inactive duty and returned to Louisville to complete his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering (1947) under the G.I. Bill. He was still on inactive duty during and after his graduate studies. So, when the Korean War broke out, he was assigned to a "research reserve" naval unit that could make use of his education in physics and engineering. He attended monthly meetings of the unit, first in St. Louis and later in Chicago. He eventually left the naval reserves when he moved to Texas.

At the University of Louisville, Carl enjoyed his physics classes more than the engineering, so he decided to do graduate work in physics. He applied to, and was accepted by, the University of Michigan and Northwestern in Evanston, Illinois. He selected Northwestern because of connections between his Louisville physics professors and Northwestern. At Northwestern, he came under the tutelage of Dr. Bockstahler, who had been measuring the thermodynamic properties of metals at high and low temperatures since the 1920s.

In due course, Carl received master's (1948) and doctoral (1951) degrees in physics at Northwestern. His PhD dissertation was entitiled "Low Temperature Thermal Conductivity of Titanium." His research involved titanium rather than some other substances, because of titanium's industrial significance, and because it had only recently become commercially available in significant quantities. His dissertation committee consisted of: Lester I. Bockstahler (supervising professor, physics, and a member of the famous Bohemian "Dill Pickle Club" in Chicago), Edson R. Peck (physics), Arnold J. F. Siegert (physics), Wasley Krogdahl (astronomy), and someone from the math department. Carl may have gotten to known Krogdahl because in exchange for giving weekly public star-gazing open houses, he lived in Northwestern's observatory instead of a dormitory.

Carl subsequently had postdoctoral training during summers when he was not teaching. In 1959, he was a fellow in semiconductor physics with Nobel Laureate John Bardeen at the University of Illinois. In the mid-1960s he was a fellow in nuclear physics at Texas A&M. Also, when he was not teaching, he worked as a consultant for General Electric (1954-55). His main accomplishment for GE was the design of a washing machine motor winding that had significantly reduced vertical dimensions and increased horizontal dimensions, relative to motors previously available, thereby satisfying the market-demand to reduce the minimum height of a top-loading washing machines.

In August of 1950, Carl was appointed temporary assistant professor of physics at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, IL., and, after a year, he relocated to Northern Illinois University in De Kalb, IL. as assistant professor. In 1955, he became the chairman of the physics department at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, TX. In the autumn of 1956, he became chairman of the physics department at Lamar University in Beaumont, where he taught until his retirement in 1992. His main research interests as a physics professor were in developing new teaching methods, such as new demonstrations, which he shared with colleagues at meetings of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He was particularly proud of one that demonstrated quantitatively the conversion of kinetic energy to heat, which involved measuring the temperature of ball bearings that were dropped repeatedly from a known height. Lamar University did not offer a master's or doctoral program in physics, but several of Carl's students were encouraged to pursue doctorates in physics elsewhere, such as Maurice L. Blackmon (M.I.T., high-energy theoretical physics), Jon Holder (Illinois, geophysics), and J. Larry Verble (Tulane, nuclear physics).

Carl also took a special interest in training students to become high school physics teachers, including Billy M. Tolar, who became a legend at Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur for his physics demonstrations, some of which were published (Phys. Teach. 14, 502 [1976]; Phys. Teach. 18, 371 [1980]). During summers, Carl conducted at least eight Summer Institutes sponsored by the National Science Foundation that were intended to enhance the teaching skills of selected high school physics teachers from around the country. Other than pedagogical research, he and his colleagues investigated particular problems that arose during the course of teaching students. For example, in Max Jammer's famous book, Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and Philosophy, Jammer quotes a paper by Carl J. Rigney and Roy H. Biser, "Note on the Famous Derivation of E=mc2. " American Journal of Physics, 34, 623 (1966).

Carl met his future wife, Margaret Roth, when he was a graduate student at Northwestern University, and she was taking courses after having graduated from its affiliated School of Nursing. They were married in 1948, raised a family, and experienced a wonderful marriage. They wanted a daughter but gave up after having five sons. During much of their married life, their main outside activities were church-related. Carl had been raised as a Southern Baptist, but when he went to graduate school, he became attracted to more progressive and ecumenical denominations. He attended the First (American) Baptist Church in Evanston and was greatly influenced by its minister, Gene E. Bartlett, who later became the president of the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. He met Margaret at an outing of the university-age youth group of the church, which Margaret attended because of her own background. Her father Ezra was a former missionary to China and a minister who was then the executive for all American Baptist churches in Wisconsin; and her brother Taylor, a devotee of Harry Emerson Fosdick, was about to begin studies at Andover Newton Theological School in preparation for what was to become a long career as a Congregational minister.

After being married, they attended an American Baptist church in Carbondale, a Congregational church in DeKalb, a Presbyterian church in Nacogdoches, and Disciples of Christ churches in Beaumont. They were greatly affected by the death of Martin Luther King Jr., and they subsequently became members of the United Church of Christ (formerly Congregational) church in Beaumont because of its promotion of improved race relations. Many years later, Carl and Margaret rejoined Northwood Christian Church in Beaumont to reassociate with old friends.

Carl loved music, and he sang in many church choirs throughout his life. He wrote quite a bit of music, including an opera (with Gary E. Parks) on the subject of the 1901 oil gusher in Spindletop. He knew the history Spindletop well, serving as a director of the Spindletop-Gladys City Boomtown Museum that is operated by Lamar University. He also wrote hymns. As an example, he wrote "Parable of the Last Judgement Retold in Song", which was performed by some of his grandchildren at his funeral.

Once their children had flown the nest, Carl and Margaret began spending their summers in travel. They made multiple trips to Europe, visiting most countries of western, central, eastern, northern and southern Europe. They were one of the first Westerners to tour China in the early 1980s, as members of the US-China Peoples Friendship Association. And they also took vacations closer to home, visiting Hawaii, Alaska, and the Caribbean.

Retirement years began in 1993, when Carl and Margaret moved to the Zilker neighborhood of Austin, and since 2000 they also became residents of Westminster Manor in Austin. During the 1990s, they attended the Congregational Church of Austin (United Church of Christ) and thought highly of its Rev. Yoshikuni (Yoshi) Kaneda and his wife Setsuko. Through membership in the church, Carl started going to meetings of the Men's Book Club. Several years later, when Carl and Margeret started also attending the Hyde Park Christian Church, Carl maintained his association with the Men's Book Club. When Carl was no longer able to drive safely on his own, he very much appreciated the rides that Mel Oakes would give him to meetings.

Carl and Margaret led a frugal life, due in part to their upbringing during the Great Depression. As a result, they were able to accumulate enough savings to make good on their commitment to the principle set forth in Matthew 25:40, which appears on Carl's grave marker. They donated two houses to an organization that provides housing to low-income families. And they donated generously to many charitable and educational institutions, including The Salvation Army, Church World Service, The International Rescue Committee, CARE, UNICEF, Amnesty International, American Friends Service Committee, The Mennonite Foundation (Everence), The Texas Freedom Network Education Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the NAACP, the Ben Rogers I Have a Dream Program, and the Carter Center.

Carl is survived by his wife, Margaret, of Austin, his sisters, Cathron Deutsch and Mary Skaro. Like Carl, his sisters went on to pursue a higher education and raise families. Cathron went to the University of Texas, where she acquired an appreciation of foreign culture and language. She subsequently raised or lived with her family in Denton (TX), Austria, Spain, Mexico, and Port Arthur. Mary went to the University of Denver to become a pianist and music teacher, and she subsequently raised or lived with her family in Port Arthur and Corpus Christi. Carl is also survived by his five sons and their families: Daniel Carl Rigney of Houston, his wife Alida Metcalf, and their sons Matthew and Benjamin; David Roth Rigney of Austin and his wife Shujia Pan; Martin Taylor Rigney of Beaumont who married Victoria Kreiner (deceased) and their son Neal Rigney, Neal's wife Amber McClintock, and their children Lance and Victoria; Robert Stephen Rigney of Austin; and Thomas Judson Rigney of Austin who married Despina Lambros, and their children Daniel, Anastasia, Alexander, and Vasiliki.

After a family ceremony, Dr. Rigney's body was donated for use in medical research and education. A later memorial service took place at a family burial plot in Greenlawn Memorial Park in Groves, Texas. Carl Jennings Rigney will be missed deeply by his family and friends. But his kind, generous, thoughtful and independent spirit lives on through the profound influence that he has had on his family, friends, and students.

Note Added: Carl's wife, Margaret died on January 27, 2017. Here obituary is at the end of this page.

The Life of Carl Jennings Rigney in Pictures


All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages

(according to William Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7):


-See more at:


Margaret Roth Rigney (1924 - 2017)

1924-2017 Margaret Ruth Roth Rigney passed away on January 27, 2017 after having lived a full and principled ecumenical Christian life. She had a Mennonite heritage and was born in 1924 to Helen Victoria Siemens Roth and Ezra Gerig Roth in Chang-teh (Changde), Hunan Province, China, near Lichow (Lixian) where her parents were serving as missionaries.

In 1927, the family returned to the United States, and she grew up in Mt. Morris, Michigan, where her father was an American Baptist minister. The family moved later to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she attended high school and the University of Wisconsin (Milwaukee). She became a registered nurse after subsequently graduating from the School of Nursing affiliated with Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and began a career comprising several nursing specialties, including psychiatric, neonatal, and gerontological nursing.

During World War II, she served in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. At the other end of her career, after receiving a liberal arts degree from Lamar University, she worked as an ombudsman within nursing homes, under the auspices of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services. Her School of Nursing graduation pin, which appears in her photograph, contains a quotation from the Latin poet Virgil – "miseris succurrere disco" which means "I learn to aid those who suffer" and which aptly describes Margaret's lifelong guiding principle.

Margaret met her future husband, Carl Jennings Rigney, when he was a graduate student at Northwestern University. After being married in 1948, they lived successively in Evanston, Carbondale, and DeKalb in Illinois; and in Nacogdoches and Beaumont in Texas. They wanted a daughter but gave up after having five sons. In addition to performing conscientious parenting that would have exhausted many other mothers, Margaret was active in church affairs and did volunteer work as the director of interviews for the Christmas Bureau of Beaumont. Her family is particularly proud of her having forced and implemented the racial integration of the Christmas Bureau during the 1960s, as part of her commitment to civil rights and ethical conduct. She subsequently did similar volunteer work at the ecumenical mission "Some Other Place" in Beaumont.

Margaret was a talented pianist who especially enjoyed playing hymns and who could play by ear music that she had only heard. She also enjoyed travel throughout the United States and Europe, and Margaret and Carl were among the first Westerners to tour China in the early 1980s.

In 1993, Margaret and Carl moved to the Zilker neighborhood of Austin, and after 2000 they were also residents of Westminster Manor in Austin. They attended Northwood Christian Church in Beaumont and Hyde Park Christian Church in Austin, as well as Congregational (United Church of Christ) churches in those cities. Margaret outlived her husband Carl, her brothers Blanchard Ezra Roth and Kenneth Murray Roth, and her sister Helen Vivian Roth Shelton. She is survived by her sister Mildred Irene Roth Kappen of Thousand Oaks, California and her brother Rev. Taylor Eugene Roth of Newton, Massachusetts. Margaret is also survived by her sons and their families: Daniel Carl Rigney of Houston, his wife Alida Metcalf, and their sons Matthew and Benjamin; David Roth Rigney of Austin and his wife Shujia Pan; Martin Taylor Rigney of Beaumont who married Victoria Kreiner (deceased) and their son Neal Rigney, Neal's wife Amber McClintock, and their children Lance and Victoria; Robert Stephen Rigney of Austin; and Thomas Judson Rigney of Austin who married Despina Lambros, and their children Daniel, Anastasia, Alexander, and Vasiliki.

Margaret donated her body for use in medical research and education. Her ashes will eventually be interred at a family burial plot in Greenlawn Memorial Park in Groves, Texas. Margaret will be missed deeply, but her principled spirit lives on through the profound influence that she has had on her family, friends, and patients. Her family asks that you remember her by making a donation to the Salvation Army.