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Gladys Talmage Perkin (1907–2000)

Published onJan 01, 2002
Gladys Talmage Perkin (1907–2000)

An ardent supporter of astronomy and AAS Patron, Gladys Frelinghuysen Talmage Perkin, passed away on 28 November 2000. She was the widow of Perkin-Elmer Corporation co-founder, Richard Scott Perkin (1906-1969). Mrs Perkin was born on 13 May 1907, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Frelinghuysen Talmage of Brooklyn Heights and East Hampton, Long Island, New York. She attended Brooklyn Heights Seminary and Pine Manor in Wellesley, Massachusetts before graduating from Pratt Institute in 1929. Gladys met Richard Perkin in 1927, while still a student at Pratt, but they were not married until 20 April 1930. The marriage resulted in four children.

At the time of their marriage, Richard Perkin was employed by a Wall Street brokerage house though, by 1933, his involvement with the brokerage business had ended. Gladys managed the Perkin household while Richard sought a new source of income. In 1937, Richard was still considering business options when he renewed an acquaintance with Charles Elmer at an international meeting of astronomers at Harvard College Observatory. Together, they founded Perkin-Elmer Corporation with five thousand dollars of Glady’s money matched with the same amount from Elmer’s savings. Though originally based on sales of small telescopes into the amateur and recreational markets, the Perkin-Elmer business grew rapidly during World War II with important defense contributions in the manufacture of roof prisms and other optical systems.

While raising her family, Gladys managed to participate in Richard’s business related travel and became well known in the astronomical community in addition to the other components of the Perkin-Elmer business. By the time of Richard’s death in 1969 the business was largely in the hand of others, so Gladys devoted her time to the administration of The Perkin Fund endowed by Richard before his death. As chairman of the Perkin Fund trustees, Gladys directed the fund’s philanthropy in many directions that reflected Richard’s as well as her own interests. As those of us who have served in the leadership of AAVSO as well as AAS can readily testify, astronomy was high on the list of philanthropic beneficiaries of the Perkin Fund. The largest such gift was for the construction of an astrophysics laboratory at Harvard College Observatory in 1972. The four story addition to the complex nearly doubled the useable space at the observatory. Over the years since then, the Perkin Fund made numerous smaller grants to AAVSO and AAS that facilitated many important programmatic advances in those organizations.

Gladys Perkin is survived by three of her four children, Richard T. Perkin, Winifred Perkin Gray , and Robert S. Perkin, nine grandchildren and two great grandchildren. A third son, John T. Perkin, died in 1997.

This obituary essay benefited from obituaries published in the New York Times, and the Wilton Connecticut Bulletin, as well as from a biography of the late Richard Perkin which had been graciously provided to me by Mrs. Perkin some years ago (Fahy, Thomas P. Richard Scott Perkin and The Perkin-Elmer Corporation, Published Privately. 1987. ISBN 0-9618075-0-4).

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