Dr. John Joseph Brehm, 86, passed away peacefully at Nazareth Hospital in Philadelphia, PA on January 16, 2021. He was warm and generous man with boundless curiosity, great passion and a rich, loving sense of humor, devoted to family and his teaching. He is already missed by his family and friends, and by his countless students in more than three decades of teaching at Northwestern University and the University of Massachusetts.
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John was born December 6, 1934 in Memphis, TN to John and Mattie (Thornell) Brehm. He grew up in Silver Spring, MD and graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor of science, masters degree from Cornell University, and a doctorate in physics from the University of Maryland. John was the first in his family to graduate college. He married Mary Ellen Kempers in Silver Spring, MD in November 1959. He was an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University before becoming a Professor of Physics at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He was a beloved professor on the UMass campus for over thirty years before retiring in 1997. He loved teaching and working with students, and was equally renowned on campus for his difficult classes taught with warmth, encouragement, and great humor he shared with his students. He had a gift for explaining how the universe worked in ways that the tangle of numbers and equations in a textbook never could. He was famous for energetic, entertaining, and challenging classes to all levels of students. His own speciality was in high energy particle physics, and in later years of his career, he co-wrote a 926-page textbook on modern physics called “Introduction to the Structure of Matter,” designed for a year long course for second year physics majors, adopted at many universities around the world. In his last years of his career, he specialized in calculations in chaos theory, proudly eschewing computers as being short-cuts.
His greatest project though was his family. He and Mary Ellen had four children: John, Robert, Richard, and Jennifer. He showed them the world, crossing the country in a station wagon, and across the ocean to visit the great sites of Europe. He encouraged his children to pursue their life’s work, and shared his passions with them: photography, basketball, theater, movies, great food, wine, and good Scotch.
In his retiring years, his greatest passion was for his grandchildren. He thrilled in their exploits, loved his time with them and captured their lives in thousands of photographs.
He leaves behind his wife of 61 years, Mary Ellen, his sister, Barbara, his four children, ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren. His life of dreams and great expectations carries on in the growing legacy of his family. We already miss him.
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