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Geoffrey Chester

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Chester, Geoffrey

Geoffrey Chester died on Friday, June 27, 2014, following a very sudden and brief illness. Geoffrey was a professor emeritus of physics at Cornell University, where he had served as the director of the Laboratory of Atomic and Solid State Physics (LASSP), an active member of the Senate, Associate Dean and then Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Geoffrey was born in Totley, Derbyshire, England in 1928. When he was six years old the family moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, where he attended Daniel Stewart's College and graduated in 1950 from Edinburgh University. (A fact little known to his friends is that he was the "under 16" junior champion quarter-mile runner for England and Scotland.) After earning a PhD in physics from Kings College, London, he came to the United States to do further study in physics at Yale University and at the University of Chicago. At Chicago he met Carolyn McFadden of Dillon, MT, who was a graduate student at Chicago University's School of Social Work. In 1957 Geoffrey and Carolyn married in Montana and moved to Birmingham, England, where Geoffrey took up a position with the University of Birmingham physics department. Their three children were born in Birmingham. In 1964 the family moved to Ithaca, when he joined the Cornell physics department. He remained at Cornell for the remainder of his professional career, all the while pursuing collaborations with scientific colleagues around the world, including a long-running project at the Courant Institute at New York University. He is the author and co-author of numerous scholarly publications and was the recipient of a John Guggenheim Fellowship. He was director of LASSP from 1968 to 1974. He served as Associate Dean of Cornell's College of Arts and Sciences from 1978 to 1986, and as Dean from 1986 to 1991. He enjoyed pointing out, slyly, that he was the first dean of the College of Arts and Sciences to come from the physical sciences. Geoffrey remained with the physics department as professor emeritus until his death. He had also been a long-time assistant to, and collaborator with his wife, the ceramist Carolyn Chester, and built many of the wooden structures and frames for her ceramic sculpture. Geoffrey's family, friends, colleagues and neighbors describe and remember him as a modest, kind, and deeply ethical person, who possessed a ready and playful sense of humor and a tremendous curiosity about almost everything he came across. He had many interests and pursuits and enjoyed talking with anyone who shared them, e.g., bread-baking, wood-working, art book collecting. He was an avid reader of contemporary literature and his appreciation of things he liked very much was unequivocal: "Isn't that terrific?!" He loved the western islands and highlands of Scotland, and delighted in the wild turkeys that paraded across the family's backyard in upstate New York. Geoffrey is survived by his wife, Carolyn; his children, Michael, Nicholas, and Sarah; and by his sister and brother-in-law, Dorothy and Gerald Grainger of Dunkeld, Scotland. He will be very much missed by them as well as by his friends, neighbors, and his wonderful network of colleagues from his rich academic life. In lieu of flowers, the family requests a donation to the Food Bank of the Southern Tier.

Published in Ithaca Journal on July 3, 2014
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