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Gail Anne Reichert (1954–2016)

Gail Anne Reichert died Sunday the 21st of August, 2016. She was a leader in the international collaboration that in the early 1990s pioneered the reverberation mapping technique for measuring the emission regions of active galactic nuclei.

Published onMar 27, 2020
Gail Anne Reichert (1954–2016)

Gail Anne Reichert died Sunday the 21st of August, 2016.

Gail was born December 7, 1954, and spent her childhood in Florida, where her engineer father worked for NASA. By her high school years the family had moved to northern California and Gail attended the University of California, Berkeley for her undergraduate degree in 1976 as well as her graduate work; she earned her PhD in 1982 under the supervision of Stu Boyer. Gail loved the student life of Berkeley and spent many hours with friends in the coffee shops and especially the bookstores of Telegraph Avenue.

While at Berkeley Gail worked primarily in the X-ray region and published many papers on galaxy clusters and active galactic nuclei. After graduating and taking up a position at NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland she expanded into the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum and did significant work in multi-frequency monitoring and analysis of active galaxies. She was a leader in the international collaboration that in the early 1990s pioneered the reverberation mapping technique for measuring the emission regions of active galactic nuclei. The results of this project appeared as a series of papers under the heading “Steps Towards the Determination of the Size and Structure of the Broad-Line Region in Active Galactic Nuclei’, which had great impact in the study of AGN. The first paper of the series [1] has today almost 500 citations.

Gail’s work was meticulous, methodical, and above all thorough. If there were a ‘right way’ and an ‘easy way’ to do something, Gail would always and without hesitation choose the ‘right way’. So she did not write or publish fast, but everything she published was completely solid.

In the 1980s and early 1990s Gail travelled widely. She enjoyed outdoor sports including swimming, hiking, and sea kayaking and was a serious student of Korean karate. In the 2000s health problems began to constrain her activity but she continued to enjoy nature, the outdoors and her garden to the greatest extent possible. Around this period Gail changed her focus to teaching, and in 2007 became a staff member at Montgomery College in Rockville, specializing in student support. Gail brought to teaching the same dedication, attention to detail, and tremendous capacity for hard work that so typified her astronomical research. She was devoted to her students, who returned her affection.

Sadly, Gail did not have much time to enjoy her new calling as a teacher. In 2011 it was discovered that she had stage IV breast cancer. She faced the disease with great courage, and showed genuine scientific curiosity even about the treatment studies in which she enrolled. Gail continued to be active even when severely ill and in pain; the picture above shows her on a hike she took while in chemotherapy. Above all, Gail never stopped working: she taught at Montgomery even on the day when she went into the hospital for the last time.

Gail loved animals, the beauties of nature, and science fiction. She dreamed of better worlds and her whole life tried to improve this one. Gail is survived by two brothers, her sisters, Linda and Nancy and their children, to whom we send our sympathy.

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