Hee Joong Kim, 90

Hee Joong Kim left this life quietly on June 14, 2024, at New York Presbyterian-Brooklyn Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, with his family. He was 90.

He was born in Seoul, South Korea, and emigrated to the U.S. in 1952, at the height of the Korean Conflict. He left the war-torn, Third World country at the age of 18 alone, without friends or family. Friendly sponsors helped him earn his undergraduate degree at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. He completed a master’s and a Ph.D. in physics at Kent State University and became a nuclear physicist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he worked for several decades. Over his long career, he collaborated with research scientists all over the world, traveling to national labs in France, Switzerland, Japan, and Korea.

In 1962 he married Eun-Sook Kim, who later became a self-taught artist. In 1967, the couple built a split-level home on the west end of Oak Ridge, a great source of repose and creativity to them both. He and his brother landscaped the property by hand, painstakingly digging out a terrace in the backyard. The couple grew a beautiful garden of native plants, then koi ponds and semi-wild areas dotted with her handmade tiles and sculptures, and later a studio she built for her art. They spent many peaceful hours in the yard – gardening, weeding, reading, dozing, and watching birds.

Hee Joong enjoyed golfing with friends, poker or mahjong nights with the guys, dinner parties of colleagues and neighbors thrown by Eun-Sook, and tutoring his children in math and physics. He devoured history books scientific research and lectures. A gentle spirit who enjoyed thinking and talking about world cultures and learning languages, he loved nature and spent many hours each day outside – working in the yard and going for walks. He enjoyed tinkering in his workshop and experimented with making everything from epoxy paperweights to model trains. He built his children a treehouse in a big backyard tree. He loved traveling with Eun-Sook, whether for work or pleasure.

Each evening after dinner, the couple would relax on the cozy couch in the downstairs family room. They would watch Korean soap operas or newscasts, sitting quietly together until it was time for bed, when they would go upstairs together.

Eun-Sook passed away on September 13, 2023.

They are once again sitting together on the downstairs couch, sharing a snack of apples and nuts and watching Korean soap operas, until it’s time to go to bed with a quiet “good night.”

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