At the age of 2, Charlie King had already started filling his pockets with rocks. At the age of 25, he was honing his skills as a scholar in geological engineering and geophysics and was filling his life with people, travel, music, the outdoors and the environment he loved.
The University of Mississippi graduate student lost his life after a climbing accident on Mexico’s Mt. Orizaba in early 2014, but his life and spirit will continue to be interwoven with others through the Charles Dunbar King Memorial Scholarship Endowment. Created by his parents Kerry and Terry King of Dillon, Colo., the scholarship will assist graduate or undergraduate students in geology and geological engineering.
“Charlie led a life that deserved to be remembered, and his love for Ole Miss and the School of Engineering inspired us to choose a scholarship,” said Kerry King. “Charlie had plans to work in the field for several years and then pursue a doctorate. We believe he would eventually have become a college professor.”
Adnan Aydin, professor of geology and geological engineering, was King’s undergraduate and graduate adviser, giving him “the privilege of knowing this extraordinary young person.”
“Charlie was a brilliant independent thinker, ready to embark on a great academic journey and to leave his lasting mark on the world. He was the most decent person, a perfect student, a dear friend and a young colleague,” Aydin said.
“Charlie was fully aware of his capacity for a substantial contribution, and for him, that contribution had to be something that made a real and significant difference. He had the pure and selfless views of an ideal youth on all facets of academia and society at large. He was a compassionate and unifying person.”
The Kings, their son Matthew King and many other family members are Ole Miss alumni and appreciate the continuing support they are receiving from the UM School of Engineering since Charlie King’s death. The Oxford, Miss., natives are quick to acknowledge the engineering program’s impact on his life.
“Charlie knew from a very early age what he wanted to do and never wavered,” said Kerry King. “He loved that program and it matured Charlie. He was like one of those rough rocks he collected all his life. The School of Engineering faculty helped smooth his edges, helping him to become a complete person.”
Robert Holt, a UM professor of geology and geological engineering, and his wife, Shari, became close to King.
“I chose Charlie as my teaching assistant because during his senior year he earned A’s in both of my courses. He assisted me for several years in my course on geological subsurface site characterization. Charlie was excellent; he was so good at anticipating what we needed to prepare. He could have gone to graduate school anywhere. He had great scientific intuition and wrote very well, which set him apart. We lost one of our shining stars.”
Gregg Davidson, chair and professor of geology and geological engineering, said the department “greatly misses” the talented student who was plugged into the academic and the social life of the Ole Miss community.
“The scholarship established by his parents has been a wonderful way to keep him in our minds and not let the business of life dull our memories,” Davidson said. “We especially appreciate their wisdom in adding flow-through funds as the endowment is growing that enabled us to offer scholarships the same year the fund was established. By doing so, students who knew Charlie personally benefited from the scholarship in his memory.
“Two graduate students have been beneficiaries, Austin Patton and Zhen Guo. The scholarship for Austin was timely, because he had just months earlier lost everything he owned in an apartment fire. The Charlie King scholarship helped get him back on his feet much faster than would have been possible otherwise. Zhen was especially moved by the award and struggled with accepting a financial benefit from the loss of his friend. On learning of his concern, Charlie’s parents reminded Zhen of Charlie’s giving nature and assured him that it was a special privilege to be able to know that the scholarship was going to someone who knew and loved Charlie.”
Patton, an inaugural recipient and now a project engineer for an environmental remediation construction company in Houston, Texas, had every class with King from geology 101 through graduate school, and their friendship developed over a shared enjoyment of adventure and the outdoors. Patton also benefited from King’s positive attitude and humor, saying, “Charlie was one in a million …. If you were having a bad day, he would most definitely find a way to cheer you up.
“Charlie seemed to excel in all his geology and engineering classes. It came to him naturally and was something he just ‘got.’ This was probably because he enjoyed it so much,” said Patton, sharing memories of an upper-level geological engineering course that he passed because of the time his friend dedicated weekly to teaching him the material. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Charlie would have done excellent, maybe even groundbreaking, geophysical work in his career.
“Charlie accomplished so much and influenced so many lives in the short time that God gave him on this earth,” Patton said. “Though quite a hackneyed expression, I truly believe that if the world was filled with more people like Charlie King, it would surely be a more enjoyable place. Charlie left this earth doing what he loved most. I will never forget his bright, jubilant demeanor as long as I live. A piece of Charlie will always be with his closest friends and his family members on any adventure we may seek. And rest assured we will all meet again soon, but as for now, Charlie is thoroughly enjoying himself climbing mountains in the sky.”
The reason so many fellow Ole Miss students, faculty members and others felt such fondness for Charlie King can be glimpsed through descriptions of his personality, hobbies and passions. He was an environmentalist, mountain climber, skier, cyclist, paddle boarder and musician who had goals of traveling the world. He brought back rocks from every place he visited, and his parents keep those rocks scattered throughout their home where they can be seen.
“Charlie was happy all his life,” said mom Terry King. “He went out of his way to help others and was very generous with his time. Not only did he enjoy tutoring other students but he also enjoyed cooking Chinese and Indian dishes for them. Charlie was obviously serious about his academic studies but he likewise appreciated the light moments of life.”
One such moment was recalled by Holt, who said Charlie had a “playful spirit with a rebellious streak.”
“I remember one field trip to Tishomingo State Park, we had about 100 freshmen on the trip,” said the professor. “We always take as many graduate students and faculty as we can to help corral this group. We were about to hike up along the highway on the Natchez Trace, so I used my very serious, drill sergeant tone and told the students how to conduct themselves, especially to stay off the road. A couple minutes later I look up and there’s this student, jumping on and off the road, over and over again. I’m ready to go yell at this disobedient freshman, and I get closer and realize it’s Charlie, just having some fun at my expense. He was always a Rebel at heart.”
That humor was also countered with love and respect for others, said his dad. “Charlie was one of those rare human beings who never said an unkind word to anyone.”
King had been affectionately called “Charlie Bear” all his life, and his parents now give rocks with a Charlie Bear inscription to family and friends, particularly when they are traveling. The rocks have been placed on mountain peaks and many other places, and on the first anniversary of Charlie King’s death, a climber placed a memorial marker on Mt. Orizaba.
Friends and family also joined to contribute to the scholarship fund. “There was a great outpouring of support for the scholarship,” said Terry King. “We’re so happy the endowment continues to grow and serve as a tribute to our son. There are many students who find they are literally broke after earning college degrees, and we want this fund to help.”
Individuals and organizations can make gifts to the Charles Dunbar King Memorial Scholarship Endowment by sending a check with the fund noted in the memo line to the University of Mississippi Foundation, 406 University Ave., Oxford, Miss. 38655; visiting online at www.umfoundation.com/makeagift; or contacting Kevin Gardner, development officer for the School of Engineering, at 662-915-7601 or email@example.com.