On December 22, Groupon software engineer James Rapley was bicycling in a designated cycling lane in Los Angeles when he was struck and killed by a motorist. It was a sudden, enormous, and senseless loss—a loss not only to his friends, family, and colleagues, but also to the unknown, unnamed multitudes he longed to help.
A native of Melbourne who had moved to Chicago just six months earlier, James saw things through a particularly clear lens: every decision he made, his father said, was "tempered by his desire to achieve a greater social good." John Mark Nickels, a friend and coworker, added that James understood how fortunate he was and used his position to make "the planet the best possible place for humanity." While still in school he tutored refugees in information technology on Saturday afternoons, and throughout his life he donated substantial time and money to charity.
James's altruism was all the more potent because of his tremendous gifts. Raised in a small rural town in central Victoria, he scored a 99.45 on the Australian national placement test—good enough to rank him in the state's top 120 students and earn a full scholarship to Melbourne University. There he studied electrical engineering and computer science. After graduating, he worked as a senior software engineer with Redflex Traffic Systems, developing speed cameras for implementation across the world—a project he chose because of its contribution to road safety. In 2013, Google approached him with a software-engineering position, but he turned it down to work at Groupon.
James worked on the Automated Merchandising team, where he was “very humble about his intelligence,” John Mark said. He and his teammates were building Megamind, a widgeting system that will allow anyone in the company to submit ideas for widgets to keep the website compelling for customers. For James, this project was about creating an idea meritocracy and letting everyone get involved in the website.
Outside work, James was an exceptional friend with an active spirit—in addition to his appreciation for cycling and other sports, he played Aussie-rules football with the Chicago Swans. He was thoughtful and funny: just before leaving for LA—which was to be a short stop on his way to spending the holidays in Australia with his family—he promised a colleague and fellow Aussie expat he would bring him back a jar of Vegemite as a reminder of home. Weeks earlier, at a friend's annual Thanksgiving dinner, James had to write what he was thankful for on a leaf and put it on a little tree. He wrote, “I'm thankful for central heating, Skype, and pretzel-bun hamburgers. And for Karen (his long-term girlfriend) for moving to Chicago with me.”
In honor of James, his family has set up a scholarship fund to support students living at Whitley College, a residential college in Melbourne where James lived for three years and served as president of the Student Advisory Council. The scholarship will help offset the first year's fees for students from rural backgrounds studying engineering or science at Melbourne University—James’s alma mater.
Whitley College operates as a residential college and theological school for students in Melbourne. While attending university, students live in dorms on the campus and engage in academic, sporting, and social opportunities in a supportive community. Specialist tutors remain on-hand to help with everything from medicine to music, while sport and theater clubs complement game rooms and other social opportunities. The College also serves as a respite from the city, surrounding students with the lush beauty of Princes Park, Royal Park, and the Melbourne Zoo.
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