Community reflects on an exemplary life

-A A +A
By Roger Snodgrass

Dr. James E. Loucks gave birth to some 7,500 babies during his distinguished career as an obstetrician-gynecologist. One of the founding fathers of Los Alamos as a self-governing entity, Loucks died Aug. 1.

People who knew him, generations of people he literally brought into the world and people who were touched by his generosity and spirit have been reminded again what a special person he was and what a profound loss the community now suffers.

The doctor and his family

The good doctor’s deeds, his gifts, his family, and his life-long love affair with his wife, Betty Jo, will likely be told and retold for a long time.

A few anecdotes from a memoir he penned at the end of his life, a few recollections from his friends, and reports on his activities in the public sphere may comfort those who knew him and introduce him to others who did not.

“Betty Jo and James led a charmed life,” he wrote. “In the early days of our marriage, we rarely had enough money to always meet our needs, but we were always happy.”

The book of “Betty Jo and James” begins when they met in 1939 at the age of 15, while James was mowing the lawn in Oklahoma City. He looked up and saw “the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen,” who pierced him with a smile. In 1945 they were married and the marriage lasted 57 years.

The struggles came early during the arduous road journey of becoming a doctor, but as he recalled, “We always knew that in the not too distant future, when I finished my education, we would have a life where our financial needs would be secure.”

And so it was. They were an attractive and devoted couple and they shared a storybook life. They had five children: Lynne, Larry, Eric, Cliff and Jennie, all of whom “turned out well,” according to friends.

Serving Los Alamos

After beginning his career delivering some 1,900 babies in two years as an army doctor, the young couple and Betty Jo moved to New Mexico, before long landing in Los Alamos where his services were very much in need.

“He was a very caring person, recalled Howard Wadstrom, a fellow OB-GYN, who arrived on the scene a little later. “He cared for his patients. He was conscientious and a good surgeon. We worked quite closely together. We covered for each other.”

Wadstrom said that even though they were competitors in a sense, “We were good friends and there were never any cross words between us. He was easy to get along with.”

Loucks became politically active in the community, Wadstrom recalled.

“I don’t know how he managed to have such an active practice and still be so active,” he said. “It wasn’t easy because many times as an obstetrician you don’t get much sleep and you still have to keep going.”

Stephen Stoddard, a colleague on the county commission that negotiated home rule with the Atomic Energy Commission said the Loucks were a handsome couple.

“He was a likeable guy, indefatigable,” Stoddard said. “You couldn’t keep him still. The guy did it all.”

Three houses

Stoddard said Looks claimed to have built the 10th private home with the first private pool in Los Alamos. It was the first of three beautiful homes that were very important in the life of his family and friends.

A second home, a vacation place, was built in 1973 on the beach in the Mexican resort community of Manzanilla. Later in his career, it became a destination for the month of February and at various times throughout the year.

It was a popular retreat as well for many friends and neighbors, lab directors and scientists from the laboratory over the years.

Loucks built a third house in Nambé after he retired from his medical practice in Los Alamos.

“In some way,” he wrote in his book, “we liked the Nambé house best of all. What made the homes so outstanding is that we were able to share them with hundreds of friends.”

As the story began when James met Betty Jo, it also wound down after Betty Jo died in 2003.

In his last few years, James Louck’s lived in the El Castillo retirement residence in Santa Fe, where he was elected president of the resident’s association and served for two years until 2007.

Many roles and responsibilities

Earlier this year, which is the 60th anniversary of the founding of Los Alamos County, Louks was featured in an in-depth profile in the Monitor, Jan. 18.

“Over the years, Dr. Loucks played a significant role in the social economic and government development of Los Alamos,” wrote Charmian Schaller, a former editor of the Monitor and community chronicler. “He was deeply involved in Kiwanis and served as the organization’s president in 1958.” He was president of the Los Alamos Family YMCA. He was vice president of the Los Alamos chapter of the Opera Guild. He was president of the Light Opera in Los Alamos and sang the tenor lead in several shows. He was president and founder of Los Alamos Saving and Loan. He was found/director of the Jemez (insurance Agency. He was deacon in the United Church. He was chief of staff of the hospital twice. And he served three terms on the County Commission, eventually becoming chairman.”

Wadstrom remembered another side of Loucks that had to do with his Oklahoma roots.

“He was a very avid University of Oklahoma football fan,” Wadstrom said. “He lived for those games and if they lost he really got upset. He was particularly concerned when they played the University of Nebraska. Before one game between the two rivals, we went over and put “ Go Nebraska” on his cars and his house. He took it as a joke but everybody who knew him got a great kick out of it.”

John and Barbara Buchen, whose son Jerry married Loucks’ daughter Lynne, said he was a very proud man, in the best sense of the word.

“On the human side, he loved to build things and after he retired he bought a cement mixer and that was the pride of his life,” said Barbara.  She remembered a story about the normally well-dressed Loucks appearing at a hardware store in a well-soiled outfit and the clerk asked him, “Didn’t you used to be Doctor Loucks?”

“Whatever he did, he did at full speed,” John Buchen said. “He wasn’t a god, but seriously, he was an unusually good person. He was a human being who really did care and cared in an unusual way. He loved the stage. He loved the attention.”

He added, “It was a wonderful life. You don’t measure it in dollars. You measure it in joy.

Loucks’ obituary ran in the local papers last week. He will be buried at Santa Fe National Cemetery Friday at 11 a.m., and a memorial service will be held later that day at the United  Church.