N. Judge King

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Obituary: N. Judge King: Chemist, philanthropist

  • Article by: Rohan Preston
  • Star Tribune
  • June 1, 2014 - 7:51 PM

N. Judge King, 78, a scientist, educator, pilot and entrepreneur known for his prickly wit and broad generosity, died May 26, in Minneapolis, after suffering from lung cancer.

Reatha Clark King, his wife of 52 years, was at his side.

“Judge was special not just because of his gifts in teaching and science,” said Clark King, retired president of Metro State University and former president and chair of the General Mills Foundation. “He was a loyal, faithful and very kind man who always helped wherever he could.”

King, who was active in civil rights efforts, came of age in an era when those who succeeded gave of themselves freely to others in need. He also believed firmly in the theory of “blooming where you’re planted.”

“In the decades where I saw Judge in many different situations, he always represented the kind of manhood my generation grew up with and so appreciate,” said civil rights pioneer Josie Johnson. “He was gentle and genteel, patient, scholarly, warm and brilliant. Judge was an ideal role model.”

Born May 14, 1936, in Birmingham, Ala., Napoleon Judge King was the fourth of five children in a household headed by a principal and a schoolteacher. His early years were spent in the “colored” schools of Birmingham, a city with a history of virulent racial violence.

“I never saw a new book until I went away to college,” he once said.

After graduating from Parker High School, King studied chemistry and math at Morehouse College in Atlanta. He continued his education at Clark Atlanta University, from which he received a master’s degree in chemistry, and Howard University, where he earned his doctorate in physical organic chemistry. He also earned an MBA at Hofstra University.

King taught chemistry at Gallaudet University in Washington before being appointed chair of the chemistry department at Nassau Community College in Long Island. When the family moved to Minnesota in 1977, he worked at 3M Company, and later established his own business, the American Air Center, which provided flight instruction services.

King, who received a pilot’s license in 1968, was a lifelong aviation enthusiast. He taught many young people to fly, and would take some of his students to air shows across the country. King also built a two-seater airplane that is still airworthy.

“When he first started flying, I boldly told him that I was only going to fly behind a bona fide Eastern Airlines pilot,” recalled his wife. “But he got the last laugh. Whenever I got stuck in some remote location, he would always fly in to rescue me. Plus, Eastern Airlines is out of business and his plane is still flying.”

King worked for a decade at 3M, where he was known as a mentor to many, especially African-Americans.

“I met him the first day at work 28 years ago,” said Kimberly F. Price, vice president of community relations at 3M. “He always was so open and welcoming and had a great laugh. Judge was a role model for my husband and many men who had their own achievements and supported those of their spouses.”

Survivors include N. Judge “Jay” King III, a physician in Tucson, Ariz.; Scott Clark King, a media production manager in Atlanta; daughter-in-law Kristin N. King, and grandchildren Kayla, MacKensey, and N. Judge King IV. He also is survived by a sister, Loventrice King, of Birmingham, Ala.; sister-in-law Mamie Clark Montague (Thomas) of Chevy Chase, Md., and many nieces, nephews and cousins.

– 4th St., Minneapolis. Visitation is at 10 a.m. and the funeral is at 11 a.m.

Rohan Preston • 612-673-4390

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