Drawing of Observatory

Roger Tuthill, 81, Solar Eclipse Chaser
by Farnaz Fassihi (Star-Ledger Staff)

(Reprinted from the obituary page of the Newark Star-Ledger, dated 12/24/00)

A lifelong love affair with the cosmos began with a glimpse into a telescope for Roger W. Tuthill.

One look at Saturn and its bright ring sparked a passion in the then-41-year-old electrical engineer that led to an active career in astronomy, both as an amateur observer and inventor. Among his inventions was the Solar Skreen, a device used by astronomers around the world to view the sun during an eclipse.

Mr. Tuthill, a longtime resident of Mountainside, died Dec. 15 at the Tenacre Foundation, a nursing facility for Christian Scientists in Princeton. He was 81.

"If this was going to happen, it's better that it happened now with all the life and love and light of Christmas. It lifts you up," said Nancy Plum Tuthill, Mr. Tuthill's second wife.

Born in Elizabeth, Mr. Tuthill graduated from Pratt Institute in New York City with a degree in electrical engineering. He served as a lieutenant in the Navy during World War II.

After the War, he worked at General Electric for 10 years, during which he was awarded 10 patents for new methods of welding and repairing equipment.

Mr. Tuthill later served as vice president of engineering for a Union-based company, Airco, before starting his own company, Roger W. Tuthill Inc., in 1974. Having fallen in love with astronomy, Mr. Tuthill directed his talents to the design and manufacture of innovative astronomical products. His most famous product, Solar Skreen, is still used by astronomers worldwide.

Mr. Tuthill also was active in Amateur Astronomers Inc., based in Cranford, at one time serving as president of the group.

Mr. Tuthill's second wife said she and her husband shared the same religious beliefs - Christian Science - and the same passion for astronomy. Together, they traveled around the world chasing solar eclipses, she said.

Mrs. Tuthill said their journeys took the couple - usually with other members of Amateur Astronomers - to such exotic locales as the Sahara desert and the mountains of Bolivia.

"Roger was an organizer," said Anita Glick, a member of Amateur Astronomers who traveled extensively with the Tuthills. "He had the ability to land in Mauritania and manage to arrange for us to stay at a French mining camp."

Mrs. Tuthill estimates her husband had seen about 20 eclipses around the globe. In a 1998 article in the Houston Chronicle, Mr. Tuthill, then on a trip to Venezuela, was quoted as saying:

"They say when you've seen one, you've seen them all. But it's like seeing a pretty woman - you want to see more. I'm going to chase eclipses for the rest of my life."

Mr. Tuthill's youngest son, Thomas, 30, recalled being carried to mountain- tops in a sleeping bag when he was 4 years old. His father would place his sleeping bag on a rock and get busy taking pictures of the sun or measuring solar radiation.

Despite his passion for astronomy, Mr. Tuthill always found time to spend with his children, said his daughter, Betty Tuthill.

"During this time of year he would take me on hikes up on Watchung Mountain. That was a time when we would talk and hang out. It was our time together," she said.

Mrs. Tuthill said she met her husband 12 years ago at the First Church of Christ, Scientist in Fanwood. She had recently divorced her first husband and Mr. Tuthill had lost his first wife, Margaret Gillies Tuthill, two years before. They each had children from their previous marriage. He had four and she had six.

"It was a beautiful love story," she said, adding that they respected each other's independence and individuality. They kept two kinds of orange juice and two kinds of butter in the refrigerator of their Mountainside Home, Mr. Tuthill's wife said.

Mr. Tuthill is survived by his second wife; three sons, Bruce, Thomas and Robert; a daughter, Bette Tuthill; four stepsons, John, David, Jerry and Jeffrey Plum; two stepdaughters, Dawn Renne and Pamela Braue; a brother, Chester; a sister, June Bassemir, and eight step-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held 1 p.m. Friday at Memorial Funeral Home, 155 South Ave., Fanwood. Donations may be made to First Church of Christ, Scientist, 422 East Broad St., Westfield.
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