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James Warner Lighthall

July 23, 1954 June 25, 2012
James Warner Lighthall
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Obituary for James Warner Lighthall

James W. Lighthall, of Birmingham, died suddenly June 25, 2012, at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. He was 57 years old. Jim was born July 23, 1954, in Ann Arbor, to Carol (nee Albertzart) and William C. Lighthall.

Jim grew up with his family in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

In junior high, Jim played ice hockey and he continued to ice skate throughout his life. As his children grew up, he taught them to ice skate at the neighborhood ice rink (where they both got their first jobs) and even got the whole family to take up rollerblading. Ice skating was a joy he shared with the whole family and it is a passion carried by all of them today.

In 1972, Jim was part of the first graduating class at Huron High to have matriculated there all four years. He played varsity football at Huron as middle linebacker. His father still recalls with pride having heard Jim�s name over the radio after scoring a touchdown in one of his games. It was at Huron High�while wearing his letter sweater�that Jim met the love of his life, Jane Cockrell. They shared an uncommonly powerful romance that spanned over four decades.

Jim and Jane both went to Albion College. Jim graduated in 1976 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biology. While at Albion, he was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity with both of his brothers. Jim was on the lacrosse team at Albion, playing against schools such as the University of Michigan and Notre Dame�games which were cherished memories for the rest of his life. His hickory lacrosse stick still hangs in family�s living room.

Jim started graduate school at Wayne State and followed his advisor to Michigan State. He earned his Ph.D. in human anatomy and neurophysiology from the medical school at MSU in 1981. During his postdoc work at Standford, he was a co-author on a 1985 article detailing the structures of the brain which today is the most-cited article in the Journal of Neurophysiology.

Jim began work at General Motors in 1984 doing fundamental research in brain injury. His groundbreaking research has lead to life-saving advances in the prevention and treatment of neurotrauma. His work in driver performance research found him working alongside racing champions from nearly every class of motorsport. His life-long love of motorsports and his dedication to neutrotrauma research has led to the selection of his memorial charity, Wings for Life.

Based on his expertise in neutrotrauma, Jim was an expert witness and consultant for Holcom Engineering, Exponent, and General Motors. During the course of this work he testified over 100 times. In additional to his tireless work as a legal consultant, Jim remained dedicated to automotive safety. He was an Injury Research Fellow at the University of Michigan as a part of Crash Injury Research (CIREN), helping automotive designers improve safety. Jim was a member of the Birmingham City Counsel Traffic & Safety Board, helping redesign streets to reduce accidents.

He shared his hobbies with his children, which included model rockets, remote-controlled airplanes, and firearm marksmanship. He was an avid audiophile and enjoyed science fiction in all forms. Jim lived his life with a passion for his work and his family and his community.

Jim is survived by his beloved wife, Jane and sons, Jonathan (Holly) Lighthall and Christopher Lighthall. He is also survived by his father, William C. Lighthall, and brothers C. William (Linda) Lighthall and Charles (Jennifer) Lighthall. Jim is preceded in death by his mother ,Carol Lighthall.

Friends may visit at Lynch & Sons Funeral Home, 1368 N. Crooks Road (between 14-15 Mile Rds.) Friday 4-8pm. A Funeral service will be held at Christ Church Cranbrook, 470 Church Road, Bloomfield Hills, Saturday 11am.

Memorials may be made to Wings for Life at


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