James R. Audet
Albuquerque, New Mexico April 14, 1952 to April 21, 2021
James Robert Audet, 69, born in Albuquerque, N.M., raised in the suburbs of Chicago and later northern New Jersey, from the first, possessed a strong curiosity for science, the natural world and technology. These passions would inform his life throughout his dual careers as electrical engineer and author.
Looking for a quieter way of life following his marriage in July 1990, James with his loving wife, Barbara, relocated first from Northern Virginia to a home in Las Vegas, N.V., eventually coming full circle to establish a residence in his hometown complete with a view of the Sandia Mountains. James passed peacefully at home, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, comforted by Barbara, his longtime caregiver and companion, and close family.
James attended elementary schools in Chicago Heights and Flossmoor, Ill., where he joined the Boy Scouts at age 11, moving quickly and notably to attain the organization's highest rank of Eagle Scout in 1967. This achievement was defined by his successfully completing his mile swim and earning 36 merit badges, many in the sciences. As a member of the Order of the Arrow, the organization's national camping honor society, he worked with troop leadership to share his environmental knowledge and skills.
He began his high school years at Marion Catholic High School in Chicago Heights, Ill., and graduated from St. Peter's Prep, Jersey City, N.J., in 1970, where he served as editor of his high school newspaper and student manager of the school's football team. In 1974, he received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from the Newark College of Engineering of the New Jersey Institute of Technology where he created an innovative project in remote automation of household electrical appliances. He was a member of Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society.
His first position following his graduation was with the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., working in the broadcast television regulatory branch.
Early in his career, he designed a methodology to facilitate the discovery and location of previously unavailable frequencies to "drop-in" new broadcast television stations in markets across the country. This process lead to the establishment of WMDT-TV in Salisbury, Md., where he served as the station's first chief engineer. Without James, that contribution to the people of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware and Virginia would not exist.
A technology entrepreneur, in 1982, he opened his own engineering consulting firm with a specialization in cellular radio systems. His inventive and professional engineering efforts pioneered the initial deployment, location and design of approximately 40 cellular telephone systems from Massachusetts to Arizona. As system after system became operational, James profoundly impacted the overall growth of cellphone use in the United States during the 1980s and beyond.
His childhood was defined by film-worthy moments with respect to science and leadership.
During his freshman year in high school in Illinois, and as a prelude to entering local and state science fairs, he undertook the unusual task of building a Geiger counter. To test his invention, he needed radioactive uranium ore, and penned letters to solicit samples from various companies. His unusual request sparked the interest of officials at the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) in Washington, D.C. On one bright Illinois afternoon, while sitting in his high school class, he was abruptly called to the principal's office where he found his mother waiting to take him home to meet two dark fedora-brimmed AEC representatives. These gentlemen told the young scientist they were assigned to determine his purpose for seeking nuclear material. It was the 1960s and all matters nuclear were important. James showed them his model and plans for his school project. Impressed, they encouraged him by taking time to show him the Geiger counter brought with them on the trip, demonstrating it for him in the living room of his home. James was thrilled; Mom, maybe not so much.
In that same year, James also entered a scientific experiment for consideration in the annual Illinois Science Fair. His experiment tracked the uptake of phosphorus by geranium plants using a radioactive isotope of the element (P32). He demonstrated the uptake of the chemical and its potential use for plant nutrition using X-ray film. For this he was awarded a First Place distinction at the City of Chicago Science Fair, and then, received a First Place Award at the Illinois State Fair finals held at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He was just 14.
Automobiles were another favorite pastime, fast ones especially. He could diagnose random car issues simply by listening as vehicles passed by him. Right out of college, he bought a Datsun 240Z, sporting tags honoring the English rock band, Led Zeppelin--a car that lovingly became known as the "Sock Wash" when its floor panels rusted out. Next came a Porsche 944, a 1990 Acura NSX, and a 1994 Acura NSX. But it was his purchase of a 2003 Ferrari 360 in 2016 that gave him a renewed opportunity to work on a vehicle even as he was battling through illness. The Ferrari had low mileage but required the love and attention which James could provide enthusiastically. By way of his car, he reached out through the Internet for problem-solving and parts, and in the process, made countless new friends around the world, with his Ferrari, a common bond. He loved working on it and loved driving the restored car in Albuquerque.
Throughout his life, his work and later pleasure travels across the country, often to see his beloved retired U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and battleships, exposed him to the diversity of the United States, its people and geography, which would assist him in launching a writing career online, with the goal to become a published author. That hard-earned dream was accomplished with the recent publication of his children's novel, "Sue Town," a science and fantasy adventure that builds off his love of animals, particularly giraffes, which is set in New Mexico.
James was preceded in death by his parents, Jean Paul and Rosemarie Cecelia (Keehan) Audet; his paternal grandparents, Jean Hector and Gertrude (Douglas) Audet and his maternal grandparents, Michael and Rose (Singler) Keehan; his aunts, Dr. Virginia Keehan, Jeanne Hightower, Eileen Keehan, Marguerite Keehan, and Eileen Rettich, and his uncles, Richard Keehan, William Keehan, Edmund "Bud" Keehan, Robert Keehan, and Joseph Rettich; and brothers-in-law, Peter S. Nibley and Edward M. Crickmer. He is survived by his wife, Barbara McNamara Audet; his brothers Paul L. (Nancy) Audet, John P. (Joan) Audet, and Christopher M. Audet; and his sisters, Barbara A. Audet and Mary Elizabeth Nibley; and his uncle, Michael (Marilyn) Keehan. James felt blessed to share his life with nieces and nephews: Paul S. (René) Audet, Samantha Audet, Derek Audet, David Audet, Brendan Crickmer, Adrienne Crickmer, and Suzanne Nibley; and great-nieces, Natalie and Danielle Audet. While in Albuquerque, James enjoyed spending time with his cousins, Michael Hightower, Dr. Stephen (Terri) Hightower, Timothy Hightower, and their families.
Due to COVID restrictions, a service honoring James is planned later in the coming year.
The family requests those who wish to express sympathy to donate to Presbyterian Healthcare Foundation in memory of James Audet to the Hospice Fund at PO BOX 26666, Albuquerque, NM 87125 or at www.phs.org/give.