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Paul William Hodge (1934–2019)

Paul Hodge, an expert in the subject of nearby galaxies, was born on November 8, 1934, in Seattle, Washington.

Published onMar 18, 2020
Paul William Hodge (1934–2019)
<p><em>Courtesy University of Washington, Department of Astronomy</em></p>

Courtesy University of Washington, Department of Astronomy

Paul W. Hodge died on Sunday the 10th of November, 2019.

Paul Hodge was born on November 8, 1934, in Seattle, Washington, to Paul and Frances Hodge. He grew up in nearby Snohomish, where, at that time, there was minimal light pollution. As a teenager he built his first telescope and marveled at the beauty of the Andromeda Galaxy under those dark skies. As an adult he became an expert in the subject of nearby galaxies.

Paul earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics at Yale (1956). He went on to graduate work at Harvard, where his thesis advisor was Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin — famous for her discovery that main sequence stars are primarily made of hydrogen. Paul’s 1960 PhD dissertation was entitled, “Studies of the Large Magellanic Cloud.”

Paul was a postdoctoral fellow at Mt. Wilson and Palomar Observatories before joining the faculty of the Astronomy Department at the University of California, Berkeley. Then, in 1965, he and fellow Berkeley colleague George Wallerstein moved to Seattle to establish the University of Washington’s independent Department of Astronomy. Prior to that, a small number of astronomers at UW had worked in the Physics and Math Departments. In the 1990s, UW capitalized on a history of training excellent observational astronomers by joining the consortium that runs Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. The Department of Astronomy also participated in the supremely successful Sloan Digital Sky Survey. Hodge and Wallerstein were both present for the festivities of the 50th anniversary of the department in 2015.

Paul Hodge was known professionally for his excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect, and selfless service. For many years he was the graduate student advisor in the UW Department of Astronomy. He was the thesis advisor of at least 19 PhD students at UW, including Don Brownlee and Rob Kennicutt, both of whom became members of the National Academy of Sciences. From 1984 to 2004 Paul was the editor of the Astronomical Journal.

Hodge had a knack for making planetary astronomy accessible, and over the years taught Astronomy 150 to thousands of undergraduates. His graduate courses were legendary for their homework assignments, which usually consisted of miniature research projects designed to illustrate both the science and the uncertain foundations underpinning that science. As a supervisor he had an uncanny ability to walk the tightrope between challenging students to do their best while instilling self-confidence and pride in their work at the same time.

Paul Hodge was a prolific author. From 1956 to 2014 he was the first author of 181 refereed astronomical papers, and coauthor of 143 others. He was the author or coauthor of over 20 books on astronomy and meteoritics, many of which are still available for purchase online. He also wrote five hiking guides (e.g. The Trails of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

Paul Hodge was the kind of professor who made people feel welcome, and he encouraged the endeavors of others. One time when the author of this obituary was working on his PhD at UW Paul introduced me to the weekly colloquium speaker as follows: “Kevin is an astronomer and a graduate student.” Here is an example of his sense of humor. Two weeks or so before my thesis defense we passed in the hall and I asked him if he was going to give me any feedback on my dissertation. He paused, smiled, and said, “Who am I to criticize your writing?” One Friday during the weekly graduate student and postdoc get together known as wine time (aka “whine time”), we were brainstorming to cast a fictitious movie starring members of the faculty. The catch was that you had to cast them as the opposite of their personality types. Paul was cast as the neighborhood bully.

Paul Hodge died of heart failure two days after his 85th birthday. He is survived by his wife, Ann, of 57 years, their children Gordon, Erik, and Sandi, nine grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother John. Many, many people would say that they were privileged to know him.

The author thanks Gordon Hodge for detailed notes; also Rob Kennicutt, Ed Olszewski, and Joe Tenn for useful information.

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