Students and faculty in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences are mourning the loss of a longtime professor.
Jack Birchfield, a BBS lecturer, passed away at the age of 61 on April 20. He is survived by his siblings Peggy Pirkle, Bonnie Parnell, Dennis Birchfield and Stephen Birchfield.
Birchfield graduated from UTD with a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology in 2011. After graduating, he taught psychology courses at UTD and Brookhaven Community College.
Jay Dowling, a BBS professor and Ph.D. co-advisor for Birchfield, said the professor’s love for music helped him receive his degree in cognitive psychology.
“I think that if you’re doing research on perception and memory of music, that it’s really an asset if you’re passionate about music, and he was certainly passionate about music throughout his life,” Dowling said.
Dowling also complimented Birchfield on his ability to teach students how to conduct a research study in the experimental projects class.
“It was clear that in reading the students’ papers and reading their reports and talking with them that they were very enthusiastic,” he said. “They were very shocked by his passing along and were going to miss him.”
James Bartlett, dean of BBS and Birchfield’s doctoral advisor, said Birchfield’s voice often had a singing quality to it.
“(He was) easy going and relaxed, never seemed to be worried about anything,” he said. “He was not at all a complainer.”
Bonnie Parnell, Birchfield’s sister, described her brother as a happy soul who loved music, adventures and making people laugh.
“He’s my little brother,” she said “He may have been a professor (at UTD), but he’s my little brother.”
Birchfield’s relaxed and laidback personality attracted people to him, Parnell said, helping him to create a network of friends around the world.
The professor had recently travelled to India to attend a wedding and was planning another vacation with a friend in Russia when he passed away.
Parnell remembered her brother’s stories about travelling. She said he would talk about foreign countries, the people he had met and his entertaining experiences.
“He had us rolling with laughter,” she said. “He was a great storyteller and a great philosopher and he was so much fun to be around.”
Parnell also said that he loved to learn, but discovered his calling later in life.
“Once he got a taste of it, he just took to it like a fish in water and … he never went back,” she said.
Even though he had found teaching, music was his first love. Birchfield played guitar and sang, often performing at local venues.
In his younger years, he was known by the nickname ‘Texas Jack’ in California, where he had started a fairly popular band.
Parnell said that she was glad her brother lived a rich life.
“He had such a good life and we’re so glad that he did,” she said. “He lived two or three lifetimes in one.”