In Memory of




Obituary for James Douglas Sullivan

James Douglas Sullivan (Jim) passed away at 5:15pm on Monday, November 30, 2020 at the Belmont Manor Nursing Home in Belmont, MA. He had previously resided in Newton, MA for almost 40 years. Jim was born on October 27, 1940 in Chicago, IL. He was born out of wedlock and credited care for his mother during her pregnancy and through his birth to the Salvation Army.

While his mother worked in the gambling industry, Jim spent part of his early childhood living in Water Valley, Mississippi with the Badley family before returning full-time to live with his mother in Chicago for his middle- and high-school years. He later regretted not bringing his bottle cap collection with him when he left Mississippi. Some of his fondest memories of childhood were summers on his grandparent’s farm in Guthrie Center, Iowa.

From a very young age, Jim knew he wanted to be a physicist. He earned his Bachelors and Doctorate degrees in Physics at the University of Chicago. Jim met his wife of more than 50 years, Lynne Anne Bjorklund, during their time at the University of Chicago. They were married on May 27, 1967 in Chicago, Illinois.

Jim did his post doc research at the University of California, Berkeley, studying moon rocks. Three years later, he and his young family drove cross country in their 1970’s Dodge Dart to Massachusetts where he began a long tenure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology doing astrophysics research.

Although what he did every day remained mysterious to his family - due to the need for a degree in mathematics to understand - in the mid to late 70’s his children recall visiting him at work and playing on Calder sculptures on campus, being chased by brazen hungry squirrels, and collecting computer printout cards. He had a project on the Voyager spacecraft, which launched in 1977. In later years studied space dust.

In the 1980’s Jim was the number one supporter of his wife’s (successful) political campaign for Newton School Committee. He canvassed tirelessly door-to-door on her behalf, often with one of his children in tow.

After leaving MIT, Jim worked at BU, BC, and for the Air Force, sometimes doing research, sometimes teaching. He was loathe to retire as he treasured having interesting problems to think about. In 2010, his granddaughter was born and his previously formal exterior softened as he was charmed to be called “Poppa.”

In August, 2017 Jim suffered a stroke and lived in nursing care at Belmont Manor in Belmont, MA from then until his passing. The family wishes to thank the entire staff of Belmont Manor for the care they gave Jim during his three years there.

In addition to his wife, Jim is survived by his children Will Sullivan (and wife, Amy Carpenter Sullivan) and Hope Sullivan, Hope’s daughter, his granddaughter, Elke (Eleanor Anneke Sullivan Mahoney), and his foster sister Beverly-Ann Siegriest (Badley).

A memorial will be held at the Burke & Blackington Funeral Home in West Newton, MA in-person and via Zoom on Sunday, December 20th from 2 to 3pm. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to the Salvation Army.