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CHARLES ALLEN WHITNEY


1929 - 2017 Obituary Condolences
CHARLES ALLEN WHITNEY Obituary
WHITNEY, Charles Allen Astrophysicist Professor, long time Weston resident and most recently of Lasell Village, Newton, much beloved father, grandfather and great grandfather, passed away at 88 on May 22, 2017 surrounded by family. He was born in Milwaukee, WI on Jan. 31, 1929, the third child of Charles Smith Whitney and Gertrude Schuyler Whitney. His father was a prominent civil engineer and later founding member of the NY firm of Ammann and Whitney which was responsible for the design of many major buildings, bridges, and highways around the world. To his father's chagrin, Whitney developed an intense interest in astronomy during his early teens, and worked as an observatory telescope assistant during the summer of 1946. This experience cemented his decision to become an astronomer, for which he prepared himself by majoring in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In the middle of his senior year of college he married Jane Ann Hall of Utica, NY and during the next decade, the couple had five children: Elizabeth Ann of Harvard, David Hall of Gloucester, Thomas Charles of Hinesburg, VT, Peter Schuyler of Lexington, and James Andrew of Mercer Island, WA. Awarded an S.B. in physics from M.I.T. in 1951, Whitney received his Ph.D. from Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 1955 for a theoretical study of the atmospheres of pulsating stars. This topic was of continuing interest, contributing to later theoretical work on the birth of black holes. Chuck and Jane spent the academic year 1956-57 with their two eldest children at the Institute of Astrophysics in Liege, Belgium where he continued his studies as a postdoctoral fellow. He joined the staff of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory (SAO) on his return from Europe, living in Arlington for a few years before moving to Weston. In 1957, with the launch of the first Sputnik satellite, he and his colleagues did pioneering work on the effect of the Earth's atmosphere on the orbits of artificial satellites, establishing methods for their efficient tracking. Promoted to full professor of astronomy at Harvard in 1968, he taught a variety of courses for undergraduate and graduate students. A prolific, widely-published author and Guggenheim Fellow, his books covered a range of subjects including astronomy, the history of scientific discovery, statistics, and celestial navigation. He also published a short story about his brother in The New Yorker, published on the astronomy of Vincent van Gogh's art in Art History and presented a lecture on Van Gogh at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. An editor of the Journal of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, he was given the Association's distinguished service award. His passion for science education led him to become consultant and editorial board member to the Children's Television Workshop's "3-2-1 Contact", and to numerous projects working with high school students in his hometown, where he served on the town's Youth and Conservation Commissions for many years. In 1989 Whitney became Professor of Astronomy Emeritus at Harvard. From 1989 until his retirement from the SAO in 1995 he was a member of the Science Education Department of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where his work focused on the use of computer simulations for teaching introductory physics. In 1995, he was one of the organizers of an international symposium titled "Parallels in Creativity", which brought together scientists and artists to discuss their common interests. With a lifelong passion for opera, he could often be found dozing in his comfortable chair on Saturday afternoon listening to the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts. A lover of the outdoors, standard poodles and trout fishing, Chuck, with Jane, purchased a traditional Adirondack camp in Long Lake, NY in 1967. The camp provided decades of quiet study, a place to pursue his love of drawing, physical work in the woods, and camping with his family. A regular sight on Long Lake piloting his large antique mahogany inboard, he hosted numerous ice cream and drifting star gazing parties on-board. In his 70s, Whitney further developed his love of drawing and painting, and with patience and dedication, produced a collection of art ranging from portraits, landscapes, watercolors, pastels, and acrylics to sketches using charcoal. He continued to study and practice art while living at Lasell Village from 2015 until his death. Jane died in 1993 at age 65. Two years later, Whitney married a fellow congregant, Elizabeth "Betty" Manson Pyle, whose husband Hugh had died twelve years earlier. The wedding party consisted of Betty's son Doug and four daughters Martha, Alison, Jennifer and Molly and Chuck's daughter and four sons. Chuck and Betty lived in her Weston home for 19 years celebrating their combined 10 adult children and their spouses and 23 grandchildren, until Betty died in 2014. In addition to his wives and parents, Whitney was predeceased by his brother, James Schuyler Whitney, and his sister, Lillian Randolph Whitney. He is survived by his children, 11 grandchildren, 2 great grandchildren, and his brother's son and daughter, Garret and Meredith. He is also survived by Betty's 5 children and 12 grandchildren. A memorial service will be held on Mon., June 26 at noon at the First Parish Church in Weston. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Weston Wayland Interfaith Action Group (www.wwiag.org) or St. Coletta of Wisconsin (www.stcolettawi.org). A private burial will be held in the Adirondacks.
Published in The Boston Globe on May 28, 2017
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