Jamie Hawkins, a meteorologist and father of three who channeled his obsession with all things weather-related into a decades-long career in public service and science advocacy, died Sunday, May 8, at his home in Alexandria, Va. He was 66.
The cause was metastatic cancer from uveal melanoma. He spent his final weeks surrounded by family and friends, laughing, reminiscing, and listening to the sounds of his grandchildren playing nearby. “It’s a joyful noise,” Hawkins said.
His wife and partner of 52 years, Nancy Meyer Hawkins, took care of him from his diagnosis in winter 2020 until his death. Nancy was the center of his world, and the home they built together in the Washington suburbs was his paradise. Though his work in meteorology and weather science took him all over the globe — to Tokyo, to Geneva, across the continental United States —
he’d never hesitate to cut a trip short if it meant getting back to his family a day early.
He first laid eyes on Nancy in ninth grade chemistry class. She still has the collection of love poems he scribbled out for her on lined notebook paper during their teenage years sealed in a scrapbook.
Their memories of their early relationship sometimes differed, but they agreed that a pivotal moment came during their senior year at Penn State University, when they competed together in a 48-hour dance marathon to raise money for a cancer charity. With their brothers and sisters from Pi Kappa Phi and Alpha Xi Delta cheering them on, they bounced and twisted their feet black and blue for two days straight. They ended up coming in second in money raised but, as Nancy would remember, “first in spirit and dedication.” The event would take on a special significance later in life.
“You get closer whenever you’re doing something to hold each other up, when you have to rely on the other person for mental and emotional support,” Nancy said. “You’re giving it your all, you’ve lasted the 48 hours, and you’ve lasted because of the support of the people who care about you.”
They eloped in New Orleans after graduating, marrying on a city streetcar one October night with a gaggle of colleagues, a case of champagne, and a grocery store sheet cake. Though they spent just two years in the city, they were intoxicated by its rich history and culture and took it with them when they moved. They held raucous Mardi Gras parties complete with sazeracs and second line fare every year at their home in Virginia, and they renewed their wedding vows in Jackson Square in spring 2021 with a jazz trumpeter serenading them as they strolled through the French Quarter.
“We never lost track of each other’s needs and desires, did we,” Hawkins wrote to his wife in April, after his health took a turn for the worse. “Sure we spent years with the mechanics of a life — buying houses and cars, working for a living day-in and day-out, spending countless hours at swim meets and soccer games,” he wrote. “But we still looked forward to those warm nights alone together, kept romance alive…and treated each other like King and Queen.”
Hawkins’s love for Nancy was matched only by his love for their children.
He shared a passion for music with his oldest, Derek. He taught him how to play “Norwegian Wood” by the Beatles on piano, introduced him to the likes of Elvis Costello and John Coltrane, and bought him his first guitar when he was a preteen. Together they attended more concerts than they could count, most memorably a tour de force performance by Tom Waits in Atlanta in 2008.
For Brent, his second child and the first to have kids of his own, Hawkins embraced the role of Grandpop. He doted over Brent’s adopted daughter, rooting for her at soccer games and gushing about her drawings of owls and dragons. As the family grew and the demands of new fatherhood intensified, Brent said he’d center himself by asking, “What would Dad do in this situation?” Even after Hawkins fell ill, he remained a constant presence in the lives of his grandchildren, reading them the same books he read his kids and tucking them in for naps.
The youngest of three himself, Hawkins went out of his way to make Danica, his baby girl, feel like she wasn’t living in her brothers’ shadow. He’d take her to “rock n’ roll” ice skating; on Fridays at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center while her brothers had swim meets, beaming from the sides as she skittered across the ice under the disco lights. On beach trips, he’d always plan a special outing with her, like the time they visited a nature reserve in the Outer Banks and looked at sea creatures under the sand.
Jamison Scott Hawkins was born on May 23, 1955, in Norristown, Pa., to Marian and Paul Hawkins. He was captivated by the space race from an early age. Rockets, satellites, and the night sky awed him; he’d recall how watching coverage of the Gemini spaceflight missions of the 1960s moved him to tears as a boy. In middle school, he was “bit by the weather bug,” as he’d put it. He’d give weather forecasts to his homeroom classes and scan for storm updates on TV long before the Weather Channel existed.
“I knew I wanted to study it. I was fascinated by it,” he said in a 2020 interview about his work in weather science. “It started as a hobby, and getting to college and learning what was really going on behind it was an awakening because not only do you realize there are physical forces behind weather that you can describe with mathematics, but you start to realize that so much depends on weather.”
After graduating with a meteorology degree from Penn State, he went into weather forecasting, then joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He started out working in operational meteorology and climatological studies, then pivoted to weather satellite development and remote sensing analysis. He concluded his 25 years in government as a deputy administrator for the National Ocean Service.
In the mid-aughts, he launched a successful independent consulting business and was soon after tapped to join Lockheed Martin’s satellite division. There, he rose to become director of the company’s civil space and environmental programs. He retired in 2020.
Outside of work, he eagerly shared his deep knowledge and boundless enthusiasm about weather with others. He took a keen interest in nurturing the next generation of weather scientists, becoming a fellow in the American Meteorological Society and networking with Penn State meteorology students and alumni. And he always offered his expertise to anyone who had questions about what was going on in the sky above them.
Danica recalled: “You’d say, ‘What’s with all this rain?’ And he’d explain it to you, and he wouldn’t just use layman’s terms. He’d always try to go deeper and turn it into a lesson. It wasn’t just an answer to a question, it was, ‘Here’s how we figure out the answer, and here’s how to think critically about it.’”
Studying the weather not only gave Hawkins a fulfilling career — it helped him find meaning and tranquility in the world around him. In reflective moments, he’d often reference parts of his favorite poem, “The Ceaseless Wind,” written by meteorologist
John A. Dutton:
“Each vast current,
each small eddy
is conceived upon a balance
and is born
in dynamic labor.
Each passes on
and leaves the monument of thermal calm,
of thermal peace.”
Hawkins is survived by his wife; his children and their spouses, Maureen, Stephanie, and Dave; his five grandchildren, Helena, Charlotte, Magnus, Frederik, and Harlan; his sister Susan and brother Randy; and a panoply of extended family and friends.
Family will receive friends at their home on Saturday, June 4 starting at 3pm. His celebration of life at the family home will begin at 4pm. Refreshments will be served
In lieu of flowers or gifts, please share a memory or photo of Jamie with the family.