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Clinton Banker Ford (1913–1992)

Published onSep 01, 1994
Clinton Banker Ford (1913–1992)

Clinton Banker Ford was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 1, 1913, the son of a successful mathematician and a talented mother. His father, Walter Ford, was Professor of Mathematics at the University of Michigan. Walter authored several mathematical texts, edited the monthly magazine of the American Mathematical Association, and served a term as AMA President. His mother, Edith Banker Ford, managed a stable and nurturing home in Ann Arbor.

Ford's interest in astronomy developed while he was in his early teens, but when he entered Carleton College in 1931, his interests also included music and poetry. When, in his third year in college, he made a decision to major in astronomy, he was the only astronomy major on campus. It was clear that his opportunities in astronomy would be greater in Ann Arbor, so Ford completed his undergraduate work and an MS in Astronomy at the University of Michigan in 1936. He continued research for a dissertation on variable star statistics while employed as a teaching assistant at Brown University, and later at Smith College. However, World War II interrupted these studies. Ford accepted a commission in the U.S. Navy, serving as a celestial navigation teacher, and as commanding officer of a V-12 (Officer Candidate) unit. He never returned to academic life to complete the dissertation.

In 1940, Ford married a musical companion, Alice Guernsey, of Chicago, Illinois. It was a marriage that was productive in many ways through their active involvement in music and in amateur theater, but ended in divorce in 1961. A second marriage, to Mrs. Eleanor D' Arcy, of Wilton, Connecticut ended in 1976. There were no children from either marriage, though Ford adopted the three children from D' Arcy' s first marriage.

After leaving the Navy in 1947, Ford worked as a research scientist for ORDWES, an Army Ordinance-Wesleyan University joint venture R&D laboratory. In 1953, he left ORDWES to become a vice-president for Nikor Corporation, a manufacturer of photographic laboratory equipment. However, by 1960 his success as an investor in the stock market was such that he was able to retire and devote full time to variable star astronomy.

Ford was the youngest member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) when he petitioned for membership in 1927. He continued to observe variable stars until poor health forced him to retire from the telescope very late in life. Over the course of that observing career he contributed 62,754 observations of variable stars to the AAVSO archives. In 1948, Ford became Secretary of the AAVSO, a position he held until his death. Ford also served as AAVSO President in its fiftieth anniversary year of 1961.

An outstanding record as an observer, and extended service as an elected officer are only the surface of Clint Ford's services to the AAVSO. From its founding in 1911, the history of the AAVSO intertwined intimately with that of Harvard College Observatory. In 1954, however, changes in emphasis and budgetary pressures forced the administration at HCO to sever their long standing relationship with AAVSO. During the critical years immediately following AAVSO's sudden independence, Ford's stalwart support as an endowment fund raiser, and his leadership for the struggling organization were essential ingredients of its survival. In the early years, it was Ford's direct intervention that prevented the total financial failure of the AAVSO. After some measure of financial stability developed, it was still Ford's generosity that allowed the AAVSO to progress in many other areas. Ford took as his personal mission the expansion of the AAVSO observing program. He drafted hundreds of finding/sequence charts for new stars in the observing program. Working with C. E. Scovil at the Stamford Observatory in Stamford, Connecticut, Ford's efforts and financial investment converted this early and very primitive initiative into a very sophisticated technical activity. The Ford Observatory in the Sierra Madre Mountains near Wrightwood, California provided invaluable photographic support for the chart making program. Similarly, Ford funded the preparation of an AAVSO Variable Star Atlas. In 1986, the AAVSO dedicated the Clinton B. Ford Astronomical Data and Research Center, its permanent headquarters building in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a building Ford purchased for the association.

Clint Ford's presence was always felt at AAVSO meetings. It was not just that the organization relied so heavily on his generosity, but rather that he was constantly, in his own quiet way, urging everyone to join in the mainstream of AAVSO activity. He always complimented speakers who had just struggled through their first presentations at AAVSO meetings. Through the 1960's, 70's and 80's, there was always a meeting after the meeting in Clint's hotel room. In these late night sessions, observers found they had a ready ear to bend with their problems on charts, observing techniques, or whatever was on their mind. These meetings, which lasted as long as Clint's bottle of high quality scotch held up, were frequently his best source of guidance on what observers needed as support.

Ford was a man of very modest pretensions. He dedicated himself to astronomy and to music, both as a performer and as a benefactor. Many organizations honored Ford with awards, including the AAVSO Merit Award, the Western Amateur Astronomers' Blair award, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's Amateur Astronomer of the Year Award, and the Astronomical League's Peltier Award. His health failed rapidly in his last few years, with complications arising from too little attention to control and mitigation of his diabetes, and he died on September 23, 1992.

Clint Ford's legacy to astronomy, a strong and independent AAVSO organization, serves as a constant reminder of his love for and dedication to variable star astronomy.


Ford, Clinton B., Some Stars. Some Music, Cambridge, Mass.: AAVSO, 1986.

Hoffleit, Dorrit, "Clinton Banker Ford, 1913-1992", Journal of the AAVSO, 21, 2(1992);144-146.

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