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Joyce M. Rey Watson (1922–2001)

Published onDec 01, 2001
Joyce M. Rey Watson (1922–2001)

Joyce Rey-Watson was a librarian who specialized in searching online astronomical databases. As such, she became a member of the American Astronomical Society. In the 1980s and 1990s she became a well-known figure at AAS meetings where she set up computers and demonstrated techniques for online searching of astronomical databases.

Born in England on 9 August 1922, Joyce was trained there in library science. She began in the field of government documents control and then became the head librarian for two engineering companies. After she emigrated to the United States, she took time out to raise her family before she resumed her career in Massachusetts. She first started at Lowell Technological Institute, where she developed and ran a small research library. Next, she ventured into Cambridge where joined the staff of Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in December 1969 as the SAO Branch Librarian.

Looking to the future, Joyce decided in 1976 to take a course in online database searching at the University of Pittsburgh. It was a pivotal point in her career. Soon thereafter, she brought online literature searching to Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. By 1986 she had learned about SIMBAD, an acronym that stands for Set of Identifications, Measurements, and Bibliography for Astronomical Data. It was just at that time that the Centre de Donnees Astronomiques de Strasbourg in France was eager to expand the usage of their object-based database. Joyce was ready to participate. In those early days of SIMBAD, she did all the searching with primitive technology: a 300-1200 baud modem, a telephone with an overseas service contract, and a line printer.

During the 1980s Joyce was also a founding member of PAM, the Physics-Astronomy-Math Division of the Special Libraries Association. Throughout her membership in PAM she served in many capacities: Chair of the Astronomy Workshop in 1982-1983; Chair-elect and Conference Program Chair in 1984-1985; Chair of PAM in 1985-1986; Chair Of the Nominating Committee in 1988-1989; and Co-chair with Brenda Corbin of the Long Range/Strategic Planning Committee in 1989-1990.

From 1991 until January 1997, when she retired from SAO, Joyce worked primarily on SIMBAD and ADS, the Astrophysics Data System, with which she had also become involved in its infancy. In retirement, she moved to California to be close to her family and to undergo treatment of lung cancer, with which she was diagnosed in July 2000. She is survived by her three daughters, Toni, Pamela, and Lilli Rey, her eight grandchildren, and her husband, Alan Watson.

This obituary is based on material supplied by her family and by the staff of the John G. Wolbach Library at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

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