In Memoriam: James E. Gifford


The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution announces with great sorrow the death of retiree James E. Gifford on June 22.  He was 94.

Known as Red as a young man, he was the son of Charles E.L. and Elizabeth A. Gifford. His father’s family came to Woods Hole in the late 1600s. His grandfather, Franklin L. Gifford was a house and carriage painter. As a youngster, he would carry his grandfather’s paint buckets to jobs around town. Franklin Gifford was also an artist and amateur historian who documented much of the history of Woods Hole on canvas; many of those paintings hang in the Woods Hole Public Library.

James attended the Woods Hole School and Lawrence High School, then transferred to and graduated from Hebron Academy in Maine. He went to Springfield College, where he hoped to develop his love for athletics into a career. However, World War II intervened. He started training for aviation but his eyesight held him back. He enlisted in the US Navy and was recognized for his small-boat skills he garnered growing up in Woods Hole. He was first assigned to Gourock, Scotland, where he met his wife of 71 years, Violet May Barker. The new Mrs. Gifford was the first war bride to arrive in this area during that time. As she traveled across the Atlantic to Cape Cod, pregnant with their daughter Ann, Mr. Gifford was on his way to Guam, where he operated a landing craft that brought wounded troops to the medical facility on the island.

James began his career at WHOI in 1946 as a warehouse helper. He left in 1947 and then was rehired in 1948 as an engineer aboard the R/V Reliance.  In 1954, he became an instrument maker.  In 1962, he transferred to technician and in 1964 he became a research assistant.  In 1969, he was promoted to research associate.  Mr. Gifford sailed in several capacities for the department of Physical Oceanography and as chief scientist aboard many of the WHOI vessels. During his tenure with the Buoy Group, he designed and perfected several techniques for buoy array deployment and retrieval. One such achievement was the design of the “Gifford Block.” In July 1972, James was voted chief scientist of the year by the crew of the R/V Knorr during one of his many cruises. He gave up his seagoing scientific career and was given the task of overseeing the construction of the Clark building on the Quissett Campus. He retired as dockmaster in 1985.

James was always athletic, playing ice hockey, basketball, and baseball. He was a left-handed pitcher and played for the Woods Hole Clippers in the Falmouth Twilight League, where he was known to some as “the crafty little lefty.”

James ran the Woods Hole Teen Center for 17 years. Every Friday and Saturday night, 10- to 18-year-olds would come to play billiards, ping-pong, and halfcourt basketball.

James was involved in many civic associations. He was a member of the Falmouth Personnel Board, a Town Meeting member from Precinct One, and president of the library board for the Woods Hole Public Library. A vestryman at the Church of the Messiah for several years, he was also a call firefighter for the Falmouth Fire Department, assigned to Station 2 in Woods Hole for 25 years.

In addition to his wife he leaves his daughter, Ann Gifford Morris and her husband, Robert Morris, of Marshfield; his son, C. Gregory Gifford and his wife, Sandra Gifford, of Woods Hole; five grandchildren, Sara Gifford Vaughan of North Attleboro, Jennifer Ann Gifford of Boston, Amelia Harris Gifford of Savannah, Georgia, Elizabeth Ashley Morris of Boston and Benjamin Gifford Morris of Boston; two great-grandchildren, Logan James Vaughan and Olivia Poet Adele Zang; and several nieces, nephews and cousins.

Burial services will be private. A memorial service will be scheduled at a later date.

Information for this obituary is from the Falmouth Enterprise


Media Relations Office

(508) 289-3340