James Whitcomb Riley, Jr.

September 6, 2009

Just learned of the passing of an old friend last December, Jim Riley.  Jim was a Ph.D. student and one of the assistant debate coaches of the great University of Utah debate teams of the middle 1970s.

He was also the guy who taught me how to properly light and smoke a cigar after we nearly won the Western Speech Association Debate Tournament at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (1974?).  Lighting a cigar properly is a skill every gentleman should have, even those who do not smoke.  He was a great friend, a wonderful life advisor, and a normal guy in a time and place when normalcy was a rare virtue.

Riley invented the famous Riley Extension as a debater for Washburn University.  The Riley Extension is an argument towards significance of an affirmative case, usually, and is boiled down to two simple questions:  “So what?  Who cares?”

The Riley Extension is now a featured piece of analysis in many Advanced Placement courses in social studies, especially history where the answering of the two questions tends to make for much better essay answers.

Here’s the memoriam note from Northwest College in Powell, Wyoming.  Jim retired from Northwest in 2005, and held the position Emeritus Professor:

Jim Riley

August 18, 1943 — December 26, 2008

James Whitcomb Riley Jr., 65,  died Friday, Dec. 26, in Wellington, Kans.

Services were held Friday, Jan. 2, 2009, at 10:30 a.m. in the Nelson Performing Arts Auditorium at Northwest College.

Jim Riley, 1943-2008

Jim Riley, 1943-2008

James W.  Riley Jr. was born Aug. 18, 1943, the son of Dr. James Whitcomb Riley Sr. and Carolyn Crenshaw Riley in Oklahoma City, Okla. He earned his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Washburn University in Topeka, Kans. He attended three years of Law School at Washburn before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He served as a military policeman in Germany and Vietnam.

Jim returned to Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, to earn his Master’s degree in Speech Communication where he also taught and coached forensics. Jim furthered his education at the University of Utah while continuing to coach. Jim later taught and coached forensics and debate at the University of Nevada Reno and Boise State University. In 1977, Jim began teaching at Northwest College in Powell.

On May 4, 1991, he was united in marriage with Laura (Barker) Hagerman. Jim retired from teaching at Northwest College in 2005 and later received the status of Professor Emeritus in the spring of 2008.

Jim was an avid outdoorsman. He had a passion for hunting, camping, cutting firewood and river rafting. His fondest outdoor adventure took him down the Grand Canyon with friends, family, and colleagues. Jim also enjoyed teaching, reading and spending time with family, friends and the family’s two dogs.

Surviving to honor his memory are his father, Dr. James W. Riley Sr. of Wellington, Kans.; wife, Laura Riley of Powell; daughter, Mallory Riley of Powell; sons Daniel Hagerman and his wife Abbey Hagerman of Laramie, Jeremy Hagerman and his wife Kelly Shriver of Olympia, Wash., Nathan Hagerman and his wife Melissa Hagerman of Anchorage, Alaska, and Taylor Riley of Powell; and three grandchildren, Mikayla Hagerman, Natalie Hagerman and Collin Poe.

Preceding him in death was his mother, Carolyn Crenshaw Riley, on Jan. 2, 2006.

In Jim’s honor, the James W. Riley Communications Scholarship fund was established to help provide quality, affordable education for students majoring in Communications at Northwest College. Applicants must have a minimum 3.5 high school GPA and must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA while attending NWC. Donations to the James W. Riley Scholarship can be made here .


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