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Seth L. Tuttle (1931–2011)

Published onDec 01, 2011
Seth L. Tuttle (1931–2011)

Seth L. Tuttle, 80, a retired physicist who worked 25 years at the National Science Foundation (NSF) died on August 8, 2011, at the Dove House hospice in Westminster, MD, from complications of a fall that he suffered while visiting his son in Denver, in December, 2010 and that left him a quadriplegic.

Seth was a native of Spokane, Washington. In High School he was student body president, “Thespian of the Year,” played football, basketball and tennis and graduated as the valedictorian, winning several scholarships, including one from the National Honor Society. He attended the University of Idaho but dropped out and in 1951 enlisted in the Army. He graduated from the Infantry Candidate School and Paratrooper Jump School and served during the Korean War, a tour of duty he was very proud of and of which he had many memories that he liked to share. At the end of the Korean War he got out of the Army, and went back to school, finishing with a degree in Math in 1955 at the University of Washington. He next attended graduate school at the U of Michigan, majoring in astronomy, but interrupted his studies once again and went to work for the Michigan Institute of Science and Technology (MIST). At MIST he headed the Launch Phase Analysis group of the Ballistic Missile Radiation Analysis Center, analyzing models of radiation from ballistic missiles for the US Early Warning System. Later he became Deputy Director of a project that designed, built and operated an observatory on Maui, Hawaii, dedicated to track missiles and satellites.

In 1971 Seth moved to Washington, DC with his family, to work at the Institute for Defense Analysis on missile defense and optical and infrared physics matters of interest to the Defense Department. In 1974, in a complete turnaround from defense oriented work, he went to the NSF as Program Manager for Energy Conservation and Energy Systems research. A few years later when the Department of Energy (DoE) was established, NSF’s energy related programs were transferred to DoE. Seth chose to stay at the NSF, where he spent the rest of his working life. Staying at the NSF allowed him to return to his first scientific interest, astronomy. He became a Program Manager in NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST), serving at various times as Program Manager for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC- Arecibo Obs.) and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). Seth liked to say that in order to show that managers have to make changes to show that they manage, regardless if this is necessary or not. His own management philosophy ran exactly opposite to this statement, however, intervening only minimally in the affairs of the National Centers and only when he thought that it was absolutely necessary to do so.

Seth was an extremely sociable and gregarious person, well known to many and much liked throughout the Foundation. He put a lot of effort and enthusiasm into organizing AST’s vernal equinox party for many years, and he invariably acted as Master of Ceremonies, distributing various awards to those who worked with and helped AST during the year. The most coveted of these, that Seth made famous, was the VLA mashed penny award that consisted of a penny mashed flat by one of the VLA antennas, attached to a certificate mentioning the good work of the recipient in favor of astronomy. He kept a good supply of these in his office in preparation for the party! Seth also loved to act as Santa Claus, and at one memorable NSF Christmas Party, he, along with a couple of other NSF staff members, performed a musical number in drag to great success!

Seth was a lifelong tennis player and started a group at the Carderock Springs Tennis and Swim club, with strange rules, called "Kabuki Tennis” that played under all weather conditions. He was a cigar aficionado and loved wine, beer and good food. Seth’s political views tended to be liberal and he enjoyed teasing his more conservative colleagues about their views, but did so always in a good natured manner. He was a great story teller and loved a good joke, especially a dirty one.

In retirement, he organized a monthly lunch for retired men in his neighborhood. Whenever he found himself close to the NSF he liked to have lunch with his former colleagues, enjoying the latest astronomy related gossip. Seth was very close to his children and grandchildren. He is survived by a son, Russell Tuttle of Lakewood, CO and a daughter, Samantha Eriksson of New Windsor, MD and four grandchildren. His wife of 49 years, the former Dorothea Leonard, died in 2007.

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