October 27, 1933 - August 7, 2018
Palmer Dyal was a physicist whose research greatly extended the boundaries of our understanding of magnetics, establishing the history of the physical state of our moon, opening the door for future scientists to research the vast influences of magnetics in the universe. He died August 7, 2018 from injuries suffered from a fall on his morning run.
Born in Odin, Indiana to Roland Dyal, manager at Kroger grocery and Stella (Sims) Dyal, former telephone operator, Palmer grew up in a family of scantly softened harsh realities. Palmer's family left Indiana in the mid nineteen thirties driving west with all their possessions. Along the way they decided to abandon a planned move to Seattle and settle instead as farmers in Walford, Iowa in order to survive the Depression.
Palmer earned his money by hunting and trapping during his free time. His father was a harsh disciplinarian who made home less than a haven on most days. Roland did help Palmer by trading a shotgun to a professional trapper in exchange for taking Palmer out to the woodland and teaching him how to trap and hunt.
He met the beautiful and stylish Gladys Irene Wiley on a blind date which resulted in a devoted, adventure filled marriage celebrating two children, seven grandchildren, travel to every continent save Antarctica, and lasting one week shy of 63 years.
He put himself though Coe College, graduating with a degree in Physical Chemistry, and then studied at the University of Illinois with Nobel Laureate John Bardeen, ultimately gaining a PhD in Physics in 1959. In 1978 he received an honorary doctorate from Coe College.
Palmer had joined ROTC to avoid "being cannon fodder" in the Korean War but stayed in the Air Force because "only the governments of the US and the USSR could afford the science he wanted to explore." He went on to co-author papers with a few members of the Russian Academy of Sciences as well as his colleges in the United States in later years, once his work was de-classified.
At the Air Force Weapons Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico Captain Dyal worked on the magnetics of high altitude nuclear explosions, one of which, the Starfish Prime launch of July 9, 1962 accidentally tripped most circuit breakers in Hawaii. As well as working in the South Pacific and at Kirtland Air Force Base on his physics experiments, he also found time to hunt deer, elk, rabbits and wild turkey in the Sandia Mountains to keep meat in the freezer for his growing family. He rigorously followed the Canadian Air Force exercise regimen each morning.
In the summer of 1966 Palmer moved his family, camping with their 1957 Ford the entire way, from Albuquerque to Palo Alto, California where he began work at NASA Ames Research Center on the Apollo projects. He was a principal investigator, building the magnetometers to study the permanent and transient magnetic fields of the moon on Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 16. Those missions collectively carried four stationary and two portable magnetometers built by his teams of scientists on stunningly successful missions bringing back data that is still used today.
He subsequently worked on the Pioneer 10 and 11 and Voyager missions, happy to be on the team sending the first man-made objects beyond the solar system.
Voyager is still travelling and Pioneer 10 made history long after its decommission date in 1997. In 2002, NASA sent birthday greetings for Pioneer 10's 30th birthday and in a little more that the speed of light it answered back. Dr. Dyal was awarded the Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award in 1972. He was a member of The Explorer's Club in New York and enjoyed bringing his wife Gladys to the club gatherings in Northern California.
Though Science was his calling, Palmer's joy was with his family and his home of five decades in Los Altos Hills. At one point the house and garden on a little more than an acre housed a menagerie of animals as well as 14 hives of bees. He and his son Gordon were only called in front of the town council because of the bees.
His climbing habit was more problematic. Each expedition he lead with the Peak Climbing section of the Sierra Club somehow had an adventurous if not dramatic ending. On one outing he and a few others were ascending Yosemite's El Capitan when a fellow climber broke her leg necessitating an overnight bivouac. They were rescued by helicopter as Japanese tourists on the peak looked down from the bus parking lot.
But once his grandchildren started to arrive the focus of his life shifted to them. He believed in teaching by example so all of his grandchildren knew him as a man who exercised daily and though he gave up his once a decade marathon habit with his track star son after he turned seventy – he ran at least four miles every day but Sunday.
Palmer was a strict vegan long before it was fashionable, following doctor's advice when he contracted prostate cancer in his fifties. He held to the teachings of his mother Stella to create every day a blessing and to keep a simple and humble life.
As Palmer entered his eighth decade he began mentioning that he had some problems with his short-term memory. He never showed any frustration with that but became increasingly meticulous about his daily routine and the care with which he expressed his love for his family and friends. He ended each day reminding Gladys that he loved her as he held her hand. After his fatal fall on the hill trails near his home, his family is only consoled knowing that he died doing what he loved: running and discussing philosophy with his good friend and physical trainer Jim Colvin.
Palmer Dyal is survived by his wife of 62 years the former Gladys Wiley of Palo, Iowa, their daughter Jeanette Latta (Robert ) of Los Altos, California, son Gordon(Jill) of Greenwich, Connecticut, their granddaughter: Tabitha, grandsons: Nicholas, Evan, Andrew, William, Thomas and Graydon, and his siblings Janet Bostwick(Robert) of Green Valley, Arizona and Kay Dyal(Doris) of Mission, Texas. View the online memorial for Palmer Dyal
Published by San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times on Aug. 15, 2018.