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Raymond Edwin White, Jr. (1933–2004)

Published onDec 01, 2004
Raymond Edwin White, Jr. (1933–2004)

Raymond E. White, Jr., died unexpectedly at his home, in the early morning hours of October 12, 2004. Death appears to have been caused by severe diabetic shock. He retired from the Department of Astronomy/Steward Observatory in July 1999 with the title of University Distinguished Professor, after serving on the faculty of this institution for over 35 years.

He was born in Freeport, Illinois, on 6 May 1933, to Beatrice and Raymond E, Sr. -the latter being a career soldier in the US Army. Ray's early schooling took place in Illinois, New Jersey, Germany and Switzerland, following his father's assignments. He obtained a bachelors degree from the University of Illinois in 1955. Next Ray enlisted in the US Army, but quickly was enrolled in Officer Candidate School. He then served as lst Lt. in the US Army Corps of Engineers. Although military affairs remained a lifelong interest, and he was a member of the Company of Military Historians, Ray decided after three years to return to academia. He entered the astronomy PhD program at the University of Illinois in 1958. His PhD dissertation was supervised by Ivan R. King. Ray accepted a faculty position at the University of Arizona in 1964.

First and foremost, Ray White was known at Arizona as an excellent teacher, revered by a large number of former students. When the astronomy major program was begun in 1967, Ray was one of three, original, major advisors. Over the next three decades, he was a leader at the University level in reforming the undergraduate program and courses. He was selected Outstanding University Faculty Member in April 1989 and he served as one of a handful of professors who are Faculty Fellows. These Fellows devote untold hundreds of hours as part-time residents at student dormitories, to give students a friendly face to address their problems. In 1995, Ray was among the first group of faculty to be recognized as University Distinguished Professors. In the year of his retirement, 1999, University President Manuel Pachecho recognized Ray's extensive contributions by asking him to serve as Master of Ceremonies at the University commencement.

Ray White's research career was not as extensive as his teaching activities, but it was creative. His original specialty was globular star clusters and classes of variable stars within them. He made several catalogs of star clusters and associations, measured the exact centers, the axial ratios and the orientations of around 100 Galactic globular clusters. Certainly, Ray's greatest love in research, especially in later years, was archaeoastronomy. He studied the evidence for astronomical observations of the Sun, Moon and stars from the mound sites of the prehistoric Hohokam inhabitants of the Salt River Valley of Arizona. He was best known for his studies of the Inkaic people of the pre-Columbian, Peruvian Andes. Most of this research involved the grand Machu Picchu site, where he showed (with David Dearborn) that the central tower (the "Torreon") certainly had been used as an Observatory. They also discovered a separate, solstice observatory and named it Intimachay.

Characteristically, Ray combined much of his archaeoastronomy research interests with the involvement of undergraduate students and adults through the Earthwatch program in field trips to Machu Picchu. With a Professor in the humanities who was also well known at the University of Arizona, Donna Swaim, Ray introduced a group of undergraduates in summer classes to several archaeoastronomy sites in such countries as Ireland and the British isles. Of course they also gave on-site lectures at art museums, and sites of historical and cultural interest.

Like many astronomers, Ray was well traveled. He had sabbaticals at the University of Cambridge in 1980, and at the Dublin Institute of Advanced Study (Dunsink Observatory), Ireland, in 1996-97. The latter was funded by his winning a Fulbright Fellowship, which enabled him to further his studies of the Celtic astronomical traditions. Earlier in 1971-72, Ray served as Program Officer for Stars and Stellar Evolution in the Astronomy Section of the National Science Foundation.

Ray was one of the three "originators" of "The Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena" (INSAP) Conferences. These conferences provide scholarly discussions on the many and variegated cultural impacts of the perceptions about the day- and night-time sky, thus providing a forum for a broad sampling of artists, historians, philosophers, and scientists to get together, compare notes, and ask questions of one another. The INSAP Conferences have taken place near Castel Gandolfo Italy, on the island of Malta, near Palermo Italy, and at Oxford University in England.

Ray's scholarship also was manifest in his activities as editor. For some years in the 1990s, he edited two astronomy journals, The Astronomy Quarterly and Vistas in Astronomy.

Raymond E. White, Jr., is survived by his wife Ruby E. (nee Fisk), his high school sweetheart at Heidelberg High in Germany. Their children include Raymond E. White III (Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa), Kathleen M. (White) Wade, and Kevin D. White. Ray was proud of two beautiful granddaughters, Charlotte R. Wade and Sarah E. Wade.

Ray was proud of his early role with Steward Observatory Director Bart Bok in the commissioning of the "90-inch" reflector at the University of Arizona site on Kitt Peak in 1969. He built the direct camera, and was invited by his close friend Bok to share the "first light" of this telescope, now renamed the Bok 2.3-m telescope. When Professor Bok passed away, the astronomy magazine Sky & Telescope invited Ray to write an article which was entitled "Bart J. Bok (1906-83): Personal Memoir from a Grandson." (Bok mentored Ivan R. King, who was Ray's thesis advisor.) In his concluding remarks, Ray wrote, "The aspect of Bart J. Bok I will miss the most is his exuberance for the art of astronomy." We will also miss greatly this aspect of Raymond E. White, Jr.


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