Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Malcolm M. Thomson (1908–2002)

Published onJan 01, 2002
Malcolm M. Thomson (1908–2002)

Canadian astronomy lost it longest serving member with the death, on 21 March 2002 at age 94, of Malcolm M. Thomson. Malcolm was born in Nelson, British Columbia, on 3 January 1908, the oldest of four children of a Baptist minister. Moving regularly as his father accepted periodic calls to serve new congregations, Thomson was educated in Edmonton and Winnipeg. He graduated in 1929 from the University of Manitoba with a BA in mathematics. Thomson then joined the staff of the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa, where his primary concern was the development of accurate radio time signals for Canada. Under his supervision, time signals were broadcast on CHU in the short-wave band as well as the daily signals on the national radio service. With the exception of three years of wartime service with the Royal Canadian Air Force as a navigation instructor, and one year of educational leave during which he earned an MSc degree in astronomy at Yale University, Malcolm spent his entire career in the time service. Over those forty years, he guided improvements at the observatory as technology advanced from pendulum to crystal and then atomic clocks. In 1970, responsibility for time keeping was transferred, as part of optical astronomy, to the National Research Council of Canada where Malcolm was head of the Time and Frequency Section until his retirement in 1972. His book, The Beginning of the Long Dash: A history of time keeping in Canada, was published in 1978. The title refers to the one o’clock official time signal still broadcast daily on FM radio.

Malcolm Thomson was a most active participant in scientific and community activities. He served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada from 1966 to 1968 and on numerous national committees. Outside his professional duties, he was a leader in the programs of his church, service clubs, discussion groups and sports teams for youth. He participated in cross-country ski marathons until age eighty-five and enjoyed canoeing at the family cottage. He was also a ham-radio operator. His good health continued until only a few days before his death on the vernal equinox.

An exceptionally large family of friends will remember Malcolm Thomson but will miss his cheerful smile. His wife of sixty-one years, Genevieve (née Mathieson), two sons, Morley and Fletcher, and four grandchildren survive him.

No comments here