James W. Knox Memorial Award

This award supports graduate students for global learning experiences abroad.

In 1939, James W. Knox, a student at the University of Pittsburgh, was drinking tea prepared by Mrs. Jessie Farmer, Ruth Crawford Mitchell’s volunteer assistant, in the Commons Room when Mrs. Mitchell came to him and asked, “Where might you be from?”  After that encounter, Jim embarked on a lifelong effort to help the Nationality Rooms Program.  Interrupted only by his World War II Service as an LST commander in the D-Day landing in Europe as well as in the Pacific, Jim became a stalwart member of the Irish Room Committee and served as Chairman for more than 40 years until his death.  Mayor, then Governor David L. Lawrence was Jim’s mentor and called him Jimmy.

Jim’s career in local government service included four terms as County Controller, as well as Director of the Allegheny County Housing Authority and the Allegheny County Planning Department.  Other organizations to which Jim devoted his talents included the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, the Pennsylvania Bible Society, the Gaelic Arts Society, and countless events celebrating Irish culture.

His marriage to Valerie O. Weber took place on St. Patrick’s Day in New York City.  Their children, Jennie-Lynn Knox, Christopher John Knox, and Ronald James Knox, have formed a new generation of Knoxes, along with their five grandbabies, as Jim called them:  Shannon Lynn, Kelsey Ann, Emily Reid, Aileen Madison, and Bethena Emlyn.Jim wore many hats with the Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs: Chair, Irish Room Committee; Chair, Intercultural Educational Endowment Fund; Chair of the 40th and 50th anniversary celebrations; Chair, many terms, Nationality Council.  He always sought out our needs and went to work.  Some examples: the Commons Room organ – a gift from former Chairman of the Board of Trustees George Hubbard Clapp’s daughters; the Irish Room’s Book of Kells wrought iron stand – a gift from Helen Clay Frick; the exhibit of wrought iron works by Samuel Yellin of Philadelphia; study abroad scholarship endowments in memory of Chancellor John G. Bowman, John H. Tsui (former Chinese Room Committee chairman), Helen Pool Rush, Savina S. Skewis, Ruth Crawford Mitchell, and the Honorable Genevieve Blatt.  He also obtained several “one-time-only” gifts designated for summer study abroad scholarships.  All in all, he generated approximately $1,000,000 in scholarship funds to the University through the Nationality Rooms Program for the study abroad program.

Jim’s innate talent for bringing important people to speak at Irish Room fundraising dinners extended to Gene Kelly, a native Pittsburgher turned Hollywood movie star, and Evelyn Lincoln, President John F. Kennedy’s secretary.

The day after President Kennedy’s assassination, Mrs. Kennedy asked a Marine guard to deliver the two Oval Office flags to Evelyn Lincoln. Mrs. Lincoln, in turn, bequeathed the flags to the Irish Room in honor of James W. Knox.

Jim was named a University of Pittsburgh Alumnus of Distinction in 1996 and won the Nationality Rooms Millennium Award in 2000.

Words cannot express our affection for and appreciation of James W. Knox’s spirit and his devotion to the goals of the Nationality Rooms Program. He was proud of his Irish heritage and sought to extend the opportunity for immersion in other cultures to hundreds of University of Pittsburgh students and faculty.

He is missed.