Cover photo for James "Jim" Lawler's Obituary
James "Jim" Lawler Profile Photo
1951 James 2023

James "Jim" Lawler

June 29, 1951 — January 29, 2023


Professor James “Jim” Edward Lawler of Madison, Wisconsin, died on Sunday, January 29, 2023, at the age of 71.  After battling metastatic melanoma for several months, he died peacefully with his beloved wife Kathy, their two daughters, and his family by his side. He received exceptional care from the UW Carbone Cancer Center, Agrace Hospice, and companion, Kip Rosenthal.

Jim was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on June 29, 1951, to James Austin Lawler and Dolores Catherine Lawler (née Krull).  He was the second of five siblings.  He met his wife Kathy at age 17 and they were married in 1973, enjoying 49 years of marriage before his passing.

Jim received a BS in physics (‘73) from Missouri University of Science and Technology and a PhD in physics (’78) from UW Madison. In the two years after earning his doctorate, he was a research associate at Stanford University; he then returned to UW Madison, where he was a professor from 1980-2022 when he retired. He was an atomic, molecular, and optical physicist with a focus developing and applying laser spectroscopic techniques for determining accurate absolute atomic transition probabilities.

Jim loved nature and especially biking.  He rode his bike to campus whenever possible and often took hundred-mile bike rides on the weekends.  He also enjoyed camping, fishing, hiking, yard work, visiting national parks, traveling, and spending time with his family.

Jim was preceded in death by his parents and a nephew, Matthew Powderly. He is survived by his wife Katherine Ann Lawler (née Moffatt); children Emily (Anthony) Wells and Catherine (Malai) Lawler Turnbull; grandchildren Gregory, Cormac, and Veronica Wells and Helene Turnbull; siblings Kathleen White, Joseph Lawler, Mary (Curtis) Skouby, and Susan (John) Powderly; and many cherished nieces and nephews.

A visitation for Jim is planned for Thursday, February 16, 2023 from 4:00-7:00 pm at Cress Funeral Home, 3610 Speedway Rd, Madison, WI, 53705. All are welcome. The funeral will be held at Our Lady Queen of Peace Parish on Friday, February 17, 2023 at 11:00 am, with visitation starting at 10:00 am.

People wishing to honor Jim’s lifelong commitment to family and community can make donations to Rails-to-Trails Conservancy ( ), Agrace Hospice ( ), or the Society of St. Vincent de Paul ( ).

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of James "Jim" Lawler, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services


Thursday, February 16, 2023

4:00 - 7:00 pm (Central time)

Cress Funeral Home Madison - Speedway

3610 Speedway Rd, Madison, WI 53705

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Funeral Mass

Friday, February 17, 2023

Starts at 11:00 am (Central time)

Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church

401 S Owen Dr, Madison, WI 53711

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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