Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences

CIRES Founding Director John Christopher Harrison, 1929-2018

CIRES Founding Director John Christopher Harrison, 1929-2018


John Christopher Harrison

May 20, 1929 – October 2, 2018

CIRES mourns the passing of our founding director, John Christopher Harrison, who died peacefully in his sleep on October 2 after a four-month battle with pancreatic cancer. His daughter shared the obituary below, and the institute will soon announce a way to honor his considerable scientific and leadership legacy.

John Christopher, who went by “Chris," was born in Stockton-on-Tees in northeastern England. Chris received his B.A. in physics 1950 and his Ph.D. in 1953 in geophysics, both from the University of Cambridge. Chris spent a year as a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA before returning to Britain to fulfill his military service. He returned to UCLA in 1957, and then in 1961 he accepted a position at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California, which he left in 1965 to become professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. Chris moved to Boulder in part to live closer to his sister, Jennifer Kamper (nee Margaret Jennifer Harrison) and her family. In 1960 Chris married Elaine Millar, with whom he raised three surviving children, Kirsteen Anderson, Fiona Harrison, and Keith Harrison. During his time in Colorado, Chris dedicated himself to raising his family, to teaching, and to scientific research. He was a founding director of the Cooperative Institute for Research In Environmental Sciences (CIRES), an enterprise that now employs more than 800 environmental scientists working to understand the dynamic Earth system, including people’s relationship with the planet. Chris left CU Boulder and moved to Santa Barbara in 1983 to take up a research position at Geodynamics Corporation. In Santa Barbara, Chris joined the Prime Time Band, and volunteered in a program to introduce middle school children to playing instruments. He and Elaine were regular volunteers at the Santa Barbara Art Walk.

After Elaine passed, Chris married the second love of his life, Rosemarie, in 2005. He and Rosemarie met in the Prime Time Band, and shared many interests. Chris and Rosemarie played flute in chamber ensembles, in the band, and enjoyed traveling and spending time with family. Chris was dedicated to his children, his stepchildren Mia McElwee and Mario DiSandro, and his twelve surviving grandchildren. He is predeceased by his granddaughter Erica Harrison. Chris battled his cancer for Rosemarie and his family, and in addition to honoring his scientific legacy, his family will remember him as a most beloved husband, parent, and grandfather.


CIRES is a partnership of NOAA and CU Boulder.


Recent Stories