On June 3, 2022, John W. Farley, age 74, completed his life in the world whose properties he had studied, researched, and taught about for his entire career. He died from pneumonia, a complication of Parkinson’s disease, with which he had lived bravely for over eight years. A chemical physicist by training, John was well known in the specialized study of negative molecular ions, producing detailed high-resolution spectroscopic data.
After earning his baccalaureate degree from Harvard and his Ph.D at Columbia University, he held research and teaching positions at the Universities of Arizona and Oregon before completing the final 30 years of his 40-year academic career at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to conducting his own scientific research, John encouraged and aided his colleagues in obtaining research funding themselves. Most of his more than 80 publications were peer-reviewed papers in scientific journals and serve as footprints in which other scientists can walk long after their publication. Some of the others were in the field of physics education, in which John worked to increase scientific literacy and inspire a new generation of scientists. His innovative classroom methods engaged students in grappling directly with questions about physics, allowing them to understand their inaccurate conceptions of the physical world and replace them with accurate ones. In collaboration with a UNLV professor of education, John piloted a physics education course for high school teachers.
He won teaching awards at the department, university, and statewide levels. An intellectual who possessed an astounding reservoir of facts, John was a secular humanist, political radical, and progressive thinker. Many scientists prefer simply to pursue their research in the seclusion of their laboratories, but John perceived an obligation to share his understanding of issues critical to the continuation of humanity on earth. There, his footprints have been described as large and deep.
As early as 2001, he was lecturing and writing about the science of climate change, sounding the alarm about its human causes. He was an anti-war activist and a proponent of sensible gun reform and was committed to social justice. The eldest of eight siblings born to parents who valued education and taught their children humility, John never flaunted his knowledge and keen intelligence or set himself above others.
He was generous in spirit and endlessly patient, and he gave abundantly of his time to tutor family members who were struggling with math, once even flying across the country on the spur of the moment to help one of his sisters prepare for an important exam. A sweet and kind person, he was understated about the magnitude of the help he gave people. John listened daily to music, especially jazz and blues.
He became enthusiastically absorbed in his avocations, the major one of which was chess, which he played lifelong.
He played several grandmasters, and his proudest moment came when chess grandmaster Bendt Larsen played 110 challengers simultaneously and John was among the six winners. John was quick-witted, known for being ready with humorous quips that he delivered with great relish.
For years his family members, including his in-laws, would occasionally find in their mailboxes a new edition of the Farley Times family newsletter, in which he had given a humorous twist to the personal news he had encouraged them to submit. Family was topmost in John’s personal life. He valued the talents of his loving wife of 39 years, and theirs was an equal and deeply devoted partnership. John adored her and their two daughters.
A fun-loving father, he planned Saturday outings for his girls that included roller-coasters and 3-D movies and let them roll his office chair down the hall to buy snacks from vending machines. He delighted in being “Pop-Pop” to his granddaughter and eagerly awaited the birth of the grandson who was born two weeks after his death. John’s was a bright light and a life well lived. He was dearly loved. He will be missed greatly and long remembered.
John was preceded in death by his father, John Farley, his mother, Eileen “Mikie” Farley, and his brother Robert.
He is survived by his wife Linda Hibbard Farley, daughters Amy Farley (Alex Chekholko) and Sarah Farley Pisano (Nate Pisano), granddaughter Freya Pisano, grandson Emerson Chekholko, sisters Katherine Farley (Jerry Speyer) and Stacey Farley (Peter Davoren), brothers Joel Farley, Tom Farley (Alice), Stephen Farley (Suzanne Worden), and Calvin Farley (Chris), and many nieces and nephews.
A celebration of John’s life is planned for later in the summer and will be listed on the website of Sunset Hills Funeral Home, sunsethillseugene.com. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the American Parkinson Disease Association, apdaparkinson.org, or The Summer Science Program, summerscience.org.