Hamilton Mourns the Death of Professor Jonathan Vaughan - Hamilton College
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Jonathan Vaughan

Hamilton Mourns the Death of Professor Jonathan Vaughan

Faculty Member Since 1971, He Mentored Students at New England Center for Children

By Michael Debraggio, Assistant Vice President for Communications
Posted September 15, 2014
Tags Alumni Faculty Hamilton Headlines Jonathan Vaughan Psychology

In an email to the Hamilton community on Sept. 15, President Joan Stewart announced the death of James L. Ferguson Professor of Psychology Jonathan Vaughan. 

Dear Members of the Hamilton Community,

I am deeply sad to be writing about the death of a wonderful member of the Hamilton community. We received word last night that James L. Ferguson Professor of Psychology Jonathan Vaughan died early yesterday morning from complications of pneumonia. His wife Beejie reports that his children and grandchildren visited with him the previous day. Jon had been on a medical leave this semester to pursue treatment for throat cancer.

A member of the Hamilton faculty since 1971, Jon was widely respected by his peers, his students, the many alumni whose lives he touched and colleagues in his field. He was one of our most cited scientists, having published extensively, often with student co-authors. Jon also served as editor or consulting editor for professional journals, notably the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and was the recipient of multiple grants and fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Jon will be remembered as an excellent colleague, an outstanding teacher and a caring and enthusiastic mentor. He regularly advised students on their senior projects, championed the work of Hamilton students at the New England Center for Children and supervised the research of our psychology students in the Clinton schools. His service to Hamilton included membership on the Committee on Academic Policy and the Committee on Appointments, and chairing the Psychology Department, most recently in 2010-11.

Jon represented the high ideals of a Hamilton faculty member.

Editor's note: David Rosenbaum, Jon Vaughan's long-time collaborator and friend, put together a video tribute to Jon.


We've lost an outstanding colleague. Dennis Gilbert

He was a great mentor, not only to students, but also to faculty like me, relatively new to Hamilton when he and I worked together on a senior fellowship on free will. I'll miss him. We all will.

Jon was always so generous with his time and happy to help both faculty and students with any problem, especially technological ones, given his technophilia. I smile to think of his whistling on his way down the hallway to avoid startling me out of my chair when he knocked on my office door. Jon loved music and playing his cello, and I have fond memories of accompanying him (and one of his former students, who played the violin) on the piano at my house. Jon also played a mean harmonica! His gentle, quiet presence, wry humor, and sage advice will be greatly missed.

Jon and I served on many committees together, but our most productive work together was with the Academia Nuts, in the mid-eighties. Here's a track from the band's live album "Nuts to You," recorded around 1985, featuring Jon on the blues harp: http://academics.hamilton.edu/music/spellman/stuff/JonVonBlues.mp3 I miss you, Jon, my dear friend.

Jon was a true gentleman who proved the value of being an engaged scholar in the classroom. His impact on the College curriculum and the lives of its students is palpable and enduring. And he was a good and genuine friend.

Jon was one of the best people on the planet. Integrity straight through, loving, generous, and never spiteful. I wish we had his character and I dearly wish he were still with us. It would be a better planet.

This is a terrible loss to the College, to his department, to his family. I'm so sad about Jon's untimely death.

What a loss -- an immensely kind and honorable man, a valued leader, a dear soul.

Jon was a deeply decent and kind human being. He represented the very best of Hamilton College and will be much missed.

I've known Jon since I joined the faculty in 1972. I've always admired him for his dedication, his integrity, and his generosity and kindness to colleagues and students alike. He represented the very best of Hamilton.

Jon was a great friend to NECC. He was one of the Psychology faculty who worked hard to establish the innovative collaboration between Hamilton and NECC. He brought a group of students to visit NECC annually since 2001. More than 80 Hamilton undergrads have completed internships at NECC: taking courses and working directly with children with autism. Additionally, John helped us to recruit 41 graduates(17 here now). They have done well and Jon was a mentor to most of them. His influence lives on and extends well beyond the Hill. A good friend, fine teacher and true man of science.

Jon was a my research advisor for my four years at Hamilton (2007-11), and I couldn’t have asked for a better mentor, role model, and friend. He was always hard at work (except for perhaps when he went to cello camp during the summers), and happy to help with any question or problem, no matter how small. He had this incredible knack for leading you towards the best solution, while still making you think it was your idea all along. I am grateful for his enthusiasm for fostering students' research interests, whether that be preparing them for an internship at NECC, matching them with a special needs student in Clinton, or, in my case, setting up an EEG system he last used in the ‘80s.

Jon made my experience at Hamilton so wonderful, and he has helped me grow immensely as a scientist and as a person. He has positively impacted a countless number of students and colleagues, and we will miss him greatly.

Such a kind man. Rest in Peace, Prof. Vaughan.

I cannot think how to express how sad I am to have learned of Jon's passing. Without a doubt he was the single most important person to me in setting me on the path that I followed professionally. (Plus I named my first car after his wonderful dog, Pippin!) It is a loss for Hamilton, for the field, for me, and of course for his family. Warm wishes to Beejie and the rest of the family.

My first real college Professor. He gave me a chance to do research with him when I was still in high school. Smart, hardworking and patient with his students.

My deepest condolences to the Vaughn family. He was my first advisor. Kind and smart, I know he will be deeply missed.

Such sad news. Working with Jon, not just as a student in the classroom but also as a summer RA and on my senior fellowship, was such a privilege and had a profound impact on my experience at Hamilton and my professional life since graduating. He was an inspiring teacher, mentor, and friend. My heart goes out to Beejie and the rest of the Vaughn family.

Jon hired me as the technician for the Psychology department 30 years ago. His decision changed my life and I will always be grateful. Jon was an honorable man and consummate scientist. My condolences to his family and friends. He will always be missed

Professor Vaughan was my senior project advisor in '92-'93 and gave me the freedom to pursue a project that I was most interested in. He did not try to convince me to do a project just because it would help his own research and I truly appreciated that. He invited myself and other Psychology students he was advising over to dinner at his house for a home cooked meal. I was impressed how he would grade papers without looking at student's names so he would not be biased based on other things he knew about them or how they had done on papers in the past. I do this myself now thanks to him. Professor Vaughan was a very kind man who cared about helping others. He has helped to teach and inspire so many and I am thankful that I got to work with him. His impact will definitely live on.

I can remember when Jon was hired as an experimental psychologist in a department that was known for its emphasis on experiment. experimental psychologist

Let me try to finish my comment begun above before my computer decides once again that I am finished. Jon turned out to be one of the best of the experimental psychologists both as a researcher and as a teacher. He worked with other scientists in other science departments and thereby broadened both his and their conception of what psychology is. What better can you expect from a faculty member in a liberal ads college? Jim Ring, emeritus professor of physics

A sad time indeed. I knew Jon for as long as anyone did at the College. It did not take long in those early days in the 70's for me to see that he was an honorable young man and with the passing of over 40 years his basic goodness was confirmed to me in so many ways. I will always remember him as a kind and honest person, admired and respected by those who knew him well. We will all miss Jon but at the same time many of us will carry with us the important lessons of life we obtained by knowing him -lessons about what is important as we live our lives together with others. George Gescheider

As a psychology student at Hamilton, Jon was a mentor and also a wonderful friend. Working with Jon changed my life. He inspired me to pursue graduate school in the field of experimental psychology and even first introduced me to my graduate advisor, Steve Yantis. Although Jon's commitment to his students was clear during my time at Hamilton, my relationship with him in the years since graduating has perhaps most strongly indicated how much he cared about his students. During my first year of graduate school, Jon visited Johns Hopkins to give a talk for the Yantis lab. Always willing to put his students' accomplishments above his own, when he got to the part of the talk that included data from an old project of mine, he announced that I would be presenting this particular experiment. I will miss Jon greatly, but I will never forget the impact he has had on my life both professionally as a scientist, but equally importantly as an educator and a friend.

The essence of my liberal arts education was made possible by Jon Vaughn and the entirety of the Hamilton Psychology Department. Jon was an unpretentious genius who guided me through two independent studies where I learned to jury rig a variety of marvelous equipment so that a simple truth or two could be discerned about saccadic eye movements and cognition. Jon knew everything about electronics and computers, and it was a bit of a white knuckled ride for me to keep up with his intellect… particularly when he would parenthetically discuss the machine language of the DEC PDP-8/E minicomputer (that was 40 years ago!). No black box was safe from Jon’s curiosity and I’m grateful that a bit of that rubbed off. It’s no small wonder that he devoted his career to understanding the most amazing black box of all! I echo the preceding thoughts on Jon’s kind and gentle spirit and I particularly enjoyed reading Professor Ring’s nod to Professor Vaughn’s interdisciplinary nature. No doubt, Jonathan Vaughn’s contribution to the liberal arts experience at Hamilton will long survive. Mike Horn '75