James Edwin Higman

Date of Birth

August 19, 1914

Date of Death

December 20, 2012

City of Death

Santa Barbara

James Edwin Higman, born August 19, 1914, passed away peacefully in his sleep on the morning of December 20, 2012, at the age of 98. A resident of Santa Barbara since 1954, he was born in Los Angeles, California. His family included his father Brown Higman and his mother Florence Morehouse Higman and older sister Betty.

Jim was educated in Los Angeles, and attended UCLA, studying as an engineer and machinist. He left school in 1934 to go to sea; on his return he went into business as a machinist. He was bought out by his partner and returned to sea, but was recruited to work as a gear machinist at the naval shipyard in Panama. He alternated between the Merchant Marine, where he rapidly advanced through the grades to become a chief engineer, and working in the shops keeping the large ships running.

Later in his career, Jim worked on a series of Global Marine drill ships, developing a reputation for competence and understanding which led to perhaps the most remarkable chapter in his life (and one he never disclosed completely because of confidentiality agreements which he honored to his death) his work in 1974 as an engineer on the super-secret vessel, the Hughes Glomar Explorer. The cover story created for the Glomar Explorer was that it was a Howard Hughes owned vessel built for the mining of minerals on the seabed. In fact, the Hughes Glomar Explorer was a CIA vessel, the mission of which was to recover a sunken Soviet submarine. Jim was an essential crewmember on that mission, which was one of the great engineering achievements of the 20th century.

Jim’s engineering and machinist skills led to his inclusion in many groundbreaking projects that advanced the technology used in oil drilling and deep sea exploration. He did custom work for many of the local companies that pioneered deep sea development.

A remarkable engineer and inventor with a photographic memory, Jim understood at a fundamental level how nearly anything mechanical was constructed and how it worked. Aside from his career work, Jim contributed his considerable engineering talents to the revival of the Liberty Ship Jeremiah O’Brien, berthed in San Francisco, and the Victory ship Lane Victory, berthed in San Pedro. He built beautiful steam models and displayed them at community events, delighting boys young and old for decades. After 40 years of on and off work, he completed his 1/8 scale Pacific locomotive, which he ran just weeks before his death.

Jim’s early life included extensive travel in the U.S. and abroad with his family , and the theme of travel for both work and pleasure was something Jim remained committed to throughout his life. Jim married his wife Sue in 1958; they began their life together with a European trip, and continued to travel the world enthusiastically as long as they were able. Jim and Sue’s life together was a continuous demonstration of their deep love and support for the natural environment, their local community and the Sierra Club, which Jim’s family had been involved with since the beginning of the 20th century. They were inveterate backpackers, and never missed an opportunity to sleep out under the stars. Their unfailing and resolute support, inspirational, financial and organizational, assured the success of the campaign to acquire and protect from development the Wilcox Property, now the Douglas Family Preserve.

The Higmans supported many other worthy organizations including the Santa Barbara Presidio and the Trust for Historic Preservation. Their generosity of time and treasure has greatly enriched their community.

Jim Higman spent the last ten days of his life hosting with quiet dignity and unfailing good nature a seemingly endless stream of visitors with whom he shared stories from the past, recalling with perfect memory their common experiences. He was visited by friends, family and colleagues who came from everywhere (including Skyping with a young friend in Brazil!). One after another these visitors personally expressed their deep respect and gratitude to Jim for the contribution he’d made to each of their lives.

Jim Higman is survived by his wife Sue and extended family members in California, Hawaii, Idaho and Arizona. He will surely be missed by all who knew him and crossed his path during his long and amazing life.

Donations in Jim’s memory can be made to the Sierra Club and or The Trust for Historic Preservation


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