Jesse David Hellums, 86

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Jesse David Hellums, 86, beloved husband, father, friend and esteemed Professor Emeritus of Bioengineering at Rice University, passed away on June 26, 2016.  

David was born to John Verrell Hellums and Fannie May Beauchamp on August 19, 1929 in Stamford, Texas and grew up in Rotan, Texas where his father was a banker and his parents ran a family grocery business.

David earned his B.S. and M.S. chemical engineering degrees from the University of Texas and his PhD from the University of Michigan in 1960. While studying in Austin he met the love of his life, Marilyn Biel. They were married in 1957 and had three children: Mark William, Jay David, and Robert James Hellums.

David began his career as a process engineer for Mobil Oil in Beaumont, Texas in 1950.  Subsequently, he served as a lieutenant in the United States Air Force from 1954 to 1956.  Upon earning his doctorate from Michigan, he joined the faculty of Rice University as an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering in 1960.  He became Associate Professor in 1965, Full Professor and Director of the Biomedical Engineering Laboratory in 1968, and then Chairman of the Department in 1969.  In 1980 he was named Dean of the School of Engineering at Rice.  He had adjunct faculty appointments in the Departments of Medicine at both the Baylor and University of Texas Medical Schools where he had many research collaborators. He served as an advisor to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and was the first engineer to receive the NIH Research Merit Award in 1986.  David was one of the pioneers and founders of the Bioengineering Department at Rice and in 1998, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.  He mentored and formed life-long bonds with a host of students and scientists.

Despite all his professional accomplishments, David’s true joy was his family. He is survived by his wife, Marilyn and sons Mark, and his wife Joyce and Jay, and his wife Julia.  He adored his grandchildren Christopher, and his wife Sadia, Jessica, Michelle, Frances, and Robert.  He was deeply devoted to his extended family of cousins, nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his youngest son Robert, who died 1982 due to congenial heart disease. This led to David’s commitment to cardiovascular research.  He was preceded in death by his brother J. Verrell Hellums, sisters Ruby Hellums Hansard, Mabel Hellums Prater, Frances John Hellums, Margaret Hellums Cooper, Sara Lee Hellums Kramer.

David was quite a renaissance man.  He was a dedicated Christian and long time supporter of First Christian Church and New Covenant Christian Church.  He taught his family to embrace diversity and to stand up for those less fortunate.  He was interested in poetry, art, architecture, history, nature and sports- particularly tennis and sailing  As a child in Rotan he read an entire encyclopedia set called the Book of Knowledge, and reading nonfiction remained a passion right up to the very end of his life. He loved nature and the great outdoors, especially the bays and oceans – he spent much of his free time on his sail boats, Celeste and Fansea.  He loved his annual sail down the Texas coast from Seabrook to Rockport, anchoring out in the beautiful bays, fishing, bird watching and enjoying the sunset.  Over the years, he and Marilyn attended America’s Cup yacht races in New Zealand, Valencia, Spain and San Francisco. He took his family on camping and canoeing trips in which he joyfully identified birds and trees.  He loved tennis and stayed active playing weekly up to age 83, remaining fit his entire life. He had an internationalist mind-set and relished his numerous sabbaticals in Japan and Great Britain and many vacations abroad enjoyed with his family and friends. David Hellums lived a full life and will be missed by all who knew him.

The family welcomes all to join them for a visitation at the Bradshaw Carter funeral home at 1734 W. Alabama, Houston, TX 77098 on July 1 from 5 to 8 PM, and for the memorial service followed by a reception on Saturday, July 2 at 2PM at First Christian Church, 1601 Sunset Blvd., Houston, TX 77005. The burial service for family only will be Saturday at 10AM at the Memorial Oaks Cemetery, 13001 Katy Freeway, Houston, TX 77079.


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