Norman A. Phillips
1923 - 2019
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Norman A. Phillips, 95, died peacefully at Grace House, Windham, NH on Friday, March 15, 2019. He had lived at Grace House since suffering a stroke 2 years ago. Norman was predeceased by his beloved wife Martha (Nissen) Phillips, his daughter Ruth Walsh, and sister Alice (Phillips) Westphal. He was the son of Alton Elmer Anton Phillips and Linnea (Larson) Phillips. Mr. Phillips is survived by daughters Janet Grigsby and her husband Phillip and Ellen Chasse and her husband Dennis. He is also survived by grandsons Stephen Walsh and wife Stefanie, Matthew Grigsby, Christopher Grigsby, Derek Chasse and wife Jessica, and Keith Chasse, plus great grandchildren, Ryan and Riley Walsh and Morgan and Travis Chasse, all of whom gave him great delight.

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Phillips entered the University of Chicago in 1940 planning to study chemistry. He left Chicago to enlist in the Army Air Corps during World War II. After some months of training in meteorology, he was stationed in the Portuguese Azores, working with men desperately trying to create, by hand, good forecasts for the Allied forces. These years sparked a lifelong passion for improved weather forecasting. After the War, he returned to Chicago to get his BS and then PhD in meteorology. His path breaking dissertation studies led to a long series of developments that facilitated the reliable forecasts on which we depend today. In 1951, Phillips joined the group at John von Neumann's Electronic Computer Project at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, developing and running forecast programs on one of the earliest computers. In 1956, he moved to the meteorology department at MIT, eventually chairing the department until he again moved, this time, in 1974, to the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, MD. He continued his research developing complex weather forecasting models, now requiring the use of supercomputers, and culminating in the Nested Grid Model or NGM. By the time of his 1984 retirement, the NGM had become affectionately known as Norm's Great Model. It continued in use until well into the 2000's.

In 1971, Phillips was awarded the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal by the American Meteorological Society, its highest honor. In 1976, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in the USA. In 2003, the Franklin Institute awarded Phillips and his lifelong friend and colleague Joseph Smagorinsky the Benjamin Franklin Medal in earth science in recognition of their seminal contributions to development of computer models of weather and climate. The award also noted that they developed the first observational network and method for gathering and assimilating the data needed for good weather forecasting.

Phillips actively served on many scientific organizations and committees, including, among others, the Atmospheric Science Panels of the President's Science Advisory Committee and the National Science Foundation, the Evaluation and Goals Committee of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, the Mid-Ocean Dynamics Experiment Scientific Panel, and the U.S. Panel for the First GARP Global Experiment. In 1953, Phillips spent 6 months in Stockholm writing a numerical forecast program for the Swedish Air Force. With other meteorologists, he participated in the first post-war scientific meeting in Tokyo, Japan, in 1960. In 1980, he advised NOAA on its new satellite system. Advising also led to trips to Leningrad, Moscow, Lisbon, Hangzhou (China) and London. In Hangzhou, he collaborated on a report for the World Meteorological Organization on the likely consequences of nuclear war. He was particularly grateful to have been a part of 1964 and 1965 Commission for Dynamic Meteorology meetings in Leningrad and Moscow, during the heat of the cold war.

As a young man, Phillips was also an accomplished French horn player, having met his beloved Martha when they both performed for an operetta in Chicago. He took up the horn again later in life, playing in groups both in Camp Springs and when they retired to Merrimack, NH. In Merrimack, Norman pursued a number of community activities for which he now had the time. He was tireless raising money for the Exchange Club's high school scholarship program. As a member of the Merrimack Town Budget Committee, he worked hard to help solve the town's problems of trash collection. He remained an avid reader and had a particular fascination with Scandinavia and the history of his Swedish ancestors.

Phillips stayed mentally adept well into his eighties, publishing his last professional paper, on the Foucault pendulum, at the age of 90. He will be remembered by family, friends and former colleagues and students for his mischievous sense of humor, his intellect, his great integrity and his deep commitment to the wellbeing of this earth we all inhabit. During the last decade, Norman and Martha were ably cared for by their youngest daughter Ellen, for which the rest of the family expresses their gratitude.

A memorial celebration of Norman's life will be held at the Rivet Funeral Home, 425 Daniel Webster Highway, Merrimack on Saturday June 29th, 2019 at 11 AM.

The family invites memorial donations to either The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research or to the American Meteorological Society.

To leave an online condolence for the family, please visit

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Published in Union Leader on Mar. 24, 2019.
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16 entries
July 11, 2019
Norm was without doubt the best teacher I had at MIT from any department. And he always took an interest in my development. He encouraged me strongly to go to work for the weather service, as he put it to bring some rigor there. I chose another path, but he decided that to get rigor in weather models, he would just have to go there himself, and so he did! I was always very impressed he was willing to resign a professorship at MIT to do that.

Peggy and I were fortunate to be able to visit him a few years ago. Still very sharp then. He got very excited about
the new book by Dyson on the early history of computing at Princeton, in which he played an important role, before coming to MIT.
Peter Gilman
May 20, 2019
Please accept my condolences on Norms passing. I had only passing acquaintance with Norm as a graduate student at MIT, but I will recount a few incidents and thoughts that may be of interest.

Norm was on sabbatical my first year. At the beginning of my second year the department held a get together. Now there were many military men there as grad students, and Norm was very unassuming both in his person and dress. So, when I introduced myself as Stan, he introduced himself as Norm. So, I said, Hi, Norm. Everyone else in the group cringed and then I realized my faux pas. In those more formal days not addressing him as Professor was tantamount to taboo. But Norm was not fazed at all. He was a real natural guy. He was also an athlete, and played intramural basketball with the grad students into his 40s. I greatly admired that.

The second incident concerned his thinking. I, of course studied and admired some of his landmark papers, knew his outstanding work, and while I had him as a professor in only one course (where he was a great teacher), it was clear how incisive his thinking was. Well, around the time of Doctoral Qualifying Exams, I went to him with my preliminary thesis proposal. In what seemed like two seconds he looked at me and told me I had defined the problem incorrectly. It was so frank and accurate an assessment that I wasnt even deflated well only a bit deflated.

It was also Norm whose recommendation got me my job at the City College of New York, where I spent my entire career.

Years later, after he had retired, I called him and invited him to speak at the New York Academy of Sciences. Despite all my arguments, he turned down my request, claiming that he had said all he had to say. It would have been a great talk and I was disappointed, but it was in character with the man. There was no vanity in Norm. But I remember that I once did call him the Marlon Brando of Meteorology and his smile showed he liked the comparison.

And, it may well be fitting that Norm retired to beautiful New Hampshire. A quote attributed to Daniel Webster regarding the Old Man of the Mountains might have been designed for Norm.

Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades. Shoemakers hang out a giant shoe; jewelers a monstrous watch; and a dentist hangs out a gold tooth. But up there in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there he makes men.

Youve lost a great man but I think he had a wonderful life.

Stanley David Gedzelman (Ph. D. 1970 and later Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the City College of New York.)

Stanley Gedzelman
March 30, 2019
Perhaps DoJo is sleeping next to Norm & Martha....wonderful neighbors,
John & Deb
Deb Vaughn
March 26, 2019
I had the pleasure of knowing Norman and Martha for many years as friends and neighbor on Edwards Lane They were a wonderful couple and you could see how much they loved each other. I remember Norman has having a great sense of humor and an unassuming nature. You would have never have imagined by talking to him he was one of the giants in the field of meteorology / weather forecasting. He was a very special person and now he is reunited with is wife Martha. My deepest condolence I offer to his family and friends on his passing .
Dennis Magnan
March 26, 2019
I was very much enjoying on working with his great work, NGM, at Camp Springs. His influences on my career into NWP are too much to say. He will be in my memory forever....
Hann-Ming Henry Juang
March 25, 2019
To the Phillips Family:

On behalf of a grateful nation, and the VFW Auxiliary/Post #4485 in Somersworth, NH, we wish to express sincere appreciation for the honorable service given by your loved one, and send our deepest condolences on your loss.

VFW Past Auxiliary President,
Cathy Burns
March 24, 2019
He was a warm and friendly addition to the brass section of the Merrimack Community Band for many years. He was missed. I also miss Martha. Her wit at many social occasions was fun and welcoming. I often wondered if we were related as my great grandmother was a Phillips.
Donna Hastings
March 23, 2019
Norman and Martha were great friends of our mom and dad who lived across the street on Keppler Pl. I always enjoyed chatting with them when I was there. Special people...
Judy (Van Swaringen) Dillon
March 23, 2019
He was an amazing person with a beautiful family.
Susann Getsch
March 22, 2019
Truly enjoyed having met him and his sence of humor. Admired his life achievements .Good man who loves his family. Ruth mackinnon
Ruth Mackinnon
March 24, 2019
Offering our deepest condolences during this time.
The Staff of George R. Rivet Funeral Home
March 22, 2019
We are sorry to hear of the passing of Norman. His lifelong work in improving weather forecasting and models resulted in significant improvements in weather forecasting and ultimately weather safety for the public. The NGM was a state of the art weather forecast model that many of his colleagues relied on and used in making forecasts for many years. We had the privilege of meeting Norman when he visited our office a few years ago. He will be missed.
National Weather Service
March 22, 2019
Norman was such a good man, whom I'd had the privilege to know for several years since I've lived in town.
He encouraged me to serve on the School Budget Committee, which I did for 9 years. That was an invaluable experience for understanding how a school budget works. I always admired Norm's enthusiasm. He once suggested I run for public office (state rep). He had a good sense of humor. I'll miss you, Norm, as will many others. Rest in peace, friend.
Bill Cummings
March 21, 2019
I am so saddened by Norman's passing. He was a mentor to me and most wonderful person at heart. The world has a hole in it's completeness now which will be very hard to fill. Norman will be sorely missed by many...
Joe Vliet
March 21, 2019
An inspiration and driven to solve problems, Norman embodied boundless curiosity and shared his concerns for his planet and his community with equal fervor. I was privileged to know him and always delighted in getting a rise out of him in playful respect. Thank you, Norman, for your many contributions to your fellow man ...
Steven Dembow
March 21, 2019
Brenda and I are grateful for the opportunity to have known both Norman and Martha for many years and we were fortunate to have them as close friends. Both of them are deeply missed.
John Grady
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