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George S. Mumford, III (1928–2019)

Mumford conducted research on dwarf novae, cataclysmic variables and other interacting binary stars. He was also active in astronomy education and outreach.

Published onNov 30, 2022
George S. Mumford, III (1928–2019)
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George S. Mumford III 1928-2019

George Saltonstall Mumford, III died on Wednesday, February 27, 2019 in Vermont. He was 90.

George Saltonstall Mumford III was born in Milton, Massachusetts on November 13, 1928. His family moved to Pegan Hill in Dover where he attended The Charles River School and then Milton Academy. George was enthralled by the stars at an early age and started an astronomy club for his friends. In 1950, he received an A.B. in Astronomy from Harvard University, followed by an M.A. from the Indiana University and then a Ph.D. in 1955 from the University of Virginia. He taught at Randolph Macon and then was offered a position teaching mathematics and astronomy at Tufts University. In 1968 he was made full professor and went on to create Tufts’ Astronomy Department. A year later he was made Dean of Arts and Science; and in the following years he took on other Dean positions, including Dean of Research and Planning, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science, Dean of Research and Interinstitutional Planning, and Dean of the College of Special Studies. He was made Professor Emeritus in 1997.

During his tenure at Tufts, Mumford continued to do research on interacting binary stars such as novae, utilizing observatories in Harvard in Massachusetts, Kitt Peak in Arizona, and Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory in Chile. He regularly published articles in Sky and Telescope and the Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. He was a member of the American Astronomical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Association of Variable Star Observers, the American Association of Physics Teachers, the Royal Astronomical Society, and Sigma Xi.

Mumford published The Cloudy Night Book — a book of games and exercises for astronomers who faced the unseeable heavens during nights spent in observatories waiting for breaks in the clouds.

Early in his career, Mumford’s scientific publications focused on photometry and astrometry of stars. His interests shifted to dwarf novae, cataclysmic variables and other interacting binary stars in the 1960s. During this period and into the 1970s he was a frequent contributor to the Sky and Telescope News Notes column. He authored numerous book reviews for astronomical publications such as Sky and Telescope, Nature, and Mercury.

Mumford was active throughout his career in astronomy outreach and education. He presented and published a number of papers in workshops on teacher training, K–12 and undergraduate science pedagogy, gender equality issues, astronomy lab exercises, and astronomy-related software. Near the end of his professional career he contributed a series of entries to the Biographical Encyclopedia of Astronomers.

George’s other great passion was salmon fishing — particularly on the Miramachi River in New Brunswick, Canada and from the latter was born his book, A Century on the Miramachi. He was a member of the Miramachi Salmon Association and the Miramachi Fish and Game Club. He was known to always get his fish; he had a magic touch; he always had straight lines. He shared his love of the stars, travel, and the Miramachi with his family.

George and his wife, Nancy, raised their family in Dover, Massachusetts. Summers were spent on the Miramachi River, in Eastham and Squam Lake where George hiked the 5,000 footers, endlessly powered the boat for the would be water skiers and baited hooks for the squeamish. He and Nancy especially enjoyed playing tennis and bridge, attending astronomical meetings and traveling; George explored six continents, including Antarctica. In later life, they moved from Dover to Fox Hill Village in Westwood, Massachusetts. It was there that they settled into a life with wonderful friends and were renowned for their prowess and gold points in bridge. George moved to Equinox Terrace in Manchester, Vermont in 2017.

George was predeceased by his wife of almost 65 years, Nancy Carey Mumford, in 2014 and by his son, Robert Lee Mumford in 2015. He leaves his brother James Mumford of Dedham, Massachusetts. He also leaves his children: Barbara Hand (Tom Kingery) of Manchester, Vermont, Elizabeth Forshay of Grantham, New Hampshire, George S. Mumford IV of Sherborn, Massachusetts, daughter-in-law Sarah (Robert) Mumford, and grandchildren: Julie Hand, Jennifer (Matthew) Muldoon, Benjamin Forshay, Abigail Forshay, Elaine Mumford, Alexis Mumford, Parker Mumford, Rachel Mumford, and great granddaughters Claire and Maddison Muldoon. And he leaves numerous, loving nieces and nephews and many wonderful friends.

Adapted and reproduced with permission from the obituary published by The Manchester Journal, March 8 to 29, 2019. Additional material on Mumford’s astronomical work provided by Terry D. Oswalt.

For additional information see Mumford’s AstroGen entry.

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