Bob Garrison (1936-2017)

A noted astronomer and great friend of the Vatican Observatory, Bob Garrison, died on August 13.

The Specola's Fr. Chris Corbally, a friend and close collaborator of Dr. Garrison, writes:

After 81 years of life, and over 21 years of Parkinson's, Bob Garrison died last Sunday morning. Today I received this obituary, written by his son, Lee, with input from his partner, Susanna.

There's a mention of how he treasured being a VOSS' 90 faculty person.

You will remember that he was my doctoral mentor at the University of Toronto, during which he became a lasting friend and collaborator. The Vatican Observatory hosted a Festschrift for Bob in Tucson in 2002, a few years after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's. Yes, Bob had great regard for VO!

I was able to congratulate him for reaching his 80th birthday when I visited him and Susanna in Toronto last November.

Astronomer Robert Garrison outside David Dunlap Observatory. (KEITH BEATY / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

His obituary reads:

Dr. Robert (Bob) Frederick Garrison

Born in 1936 to Robert W. and Dorothy I. (Rydquist) Garrison in Aurora, Ill., died peacefully on August 13 with Susanna, his beloved partner of over 36 years at his side.

Predeceased by his brother, David R. of Salem, Oregon. Survived by his life partner, Susanna E. Jacob; his sister, Mary Lynn Carlson; former wife, Ada V. (Mighell) and children, Forest Lee (Claudia Salzmann), Alexandra (Kwanza Msingwana) and David Charles (Nicole Egenberger). He leaves grandchildren Moya Garrison-Msingwana, Imogen Esme Egenson and Heath Severin Egenson.

Known to most simply as "Bob", he graduated from West Aurora High School where he met his first wife, Ada V. Mighell, before serving in the US Marine Corps (1954- 56). While attending Earlham College, Bob was influenced by Professor Clifford Crump to pursue a career in Astronomy attaining degrees in Math (BA, Earlham Coll. 1960), Physics (Univ. of Wisc. 1960-61) and Astronomy (Ph.D.,Univ. of Chicago, 1966). While working on his Doctorate at Yerkes Observatory, he met his supervisor, William “Bill” Morgan, who inspired him to his life’s work on the MK Process and Stellar Classification. Moving the family to California, Bob worked as a research associate for the Carnegie Institute at Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories and then accepted a teaching position at the University of Toronto where he remained on the faculty for over 40 years. He served as Associate Director of the David Dunlap Observatory and for 28 years traveled to Chile as the Director of the University’s Southern Observatory.

In the international Astronomical community, Bob was well-known for his research and discoveries of a Pure Helium Star (1973) and the brightest-known Cataclysmic Variable Star (1983) as well as his support for student Ian Shelton in the discovery of Supernova 1987A. He was a frequent lecturer at conferences around the world and contributed as a board member of many non-professional and professional associations and committees including the Royal Canadian Institute, the International Astronomical Union and the Canadian Astronomical Society. In 2003, he was honoured to receive the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal for service to Canada.

One of Bob’s greatest loves was teaching and it earned him the respect of many generations of students along with distinctions such as the Dean’s Award Lifetime Achievement as Outstanding Teacher (2001). Whether it was introducing Astronomy to undergraduates in the course, “Life on Other Worlds”, mentoring graduate students or traveling across the country to meet and inspire amateurs as president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, he loved engaging with people and sharing their fascination for the night sky.

One of his proudest moments was teaching at the Vatican Observatory Summer School in 1990 where an international collection of keen students came simply to learn without the incentive or pressure of grades.

Another love was photography, which he pursued with a Spectroscopist’s technical skill and an artist’s eye. He loved singing and, together with Susanna, was a much- loved member of the Annex Singers. He was committed to connecting deeply with others, and for many years was very active in the TORI community. Bob had Parkinson’s Disease for over 20 years but through it all maintained a firm commitment to discovery by participating in research studies and joining with other people with the disease in Dancing with Parkinson's classes for 7 years.

Bob will be remembered for his mischievous sense of humour, his love of opera, the legendary pancake breakfasts with friends and family and the warmth of his friendship.

Susanna and the family offer their thanks and appreciation to the staff at Christie Gardens for their dedicated and loving care for “the professor” in his final years.
At his request, Bob’s remains will support medical education and research at the University of Toronto. A memorial gathering will be held for family, friends, and colleagues on Saturday, October 14 at Massey College on the U. of T. campus. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the Christie Gardens Foundation or Parkinson’s Canada.

Br. Guy Consolmagno

About Br. Guy Consolmagno

Brother Guy Consolmagno SJ is Director of the the Vatican Observatory and President of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. A native of Detroit, Michigan, he earned undergraduate and masters' degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona; he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College before entering the Jesuits in 1989.

At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies, observing Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican's 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and applying his measure of meteorite physical properties to understanding asteroid origins and structure. Along with more than 200 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), and most recently Would You Baptize an Extraterrestial? (with Father Paul Mueller, SJ). He also has hosted science programs for BBC Radio 4, been interviewed in numerous documentary films, appeared on The Colbert Report, and for more than ten years he has written a monthly science column for the British Catholic magazine, The Tablet.

Dr. Consolmagno's work has taken him to every continent on Earth; for example, in 1996 he spent six weeks collecting meteorites with a NASA team on the blue ice regions of East Antarctica. He has served on the governing boards of the Meteoritical Society; the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (of which he was chair in 2006-2007); and IAU Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites). In 2000, the small bodies nomenclature committee of the IAU named an asteroid, 4597 Consolmagno, in recognition of his work. In 2014 he received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences for excellence in public communication in planetary sciences.

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Bob Garrison (1936-2017) — 1 Comment

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