Drawing of Observatory

Memories of Roger Tuthill
By Dr. Lewis C. Thomas

(Reprinted from Letters to the Editor of The Journal, dated 01/04/01)

To The Journal:
On December 16, Roger Tuthill, a resident of Mountainside, died. He was well known throughout the amateur astronomers' world as the person who founded the now popular solar eclipse trips and the one who more than anyone helped promote the love of stargazing. The following is my personal tribute to him.

Who is Roger Tuthill? I have known him for years. I remember when he cooked pancakes for my family and me in the 60's at Pleasant Pond, Maine. We had all gone there to view a total solar eclipse. My older son, Bart, remembers him too. Those pancakes sure were good.

Roger worked across the street from me at Airco while I was at Bell Labs in Murray Hill. We talked often on the phone. He told me he was thinking of leaving his job and going into business for himself. This he did. He established the most helpful and friendly business I have ever seen. All amateur astronomers got to know him.

One day in early 1960, he came to see my rooftop observatory in North Plainfield. It was atop a pyramid roof ... a converted widow's walk. A week later he invited me to his rooftop observatory. We walked up a few steps and an incline. And there it was equipped with his home made telescope. Later he built a large 20-inch scope which he took to Stellafane.

In early 1970, Roger told me he was thinking of forming an expedition to Africa to see one of the longest total solar eclipses of the century. It was in the western Sahara Desert and he said to me, "I don't know if we can do it. But if we can it will be great!" And it was. I remember arriving in Dakar, Senegal, along with 200 AAIers and seeing an unshaven Roger sitting in a balcony and smiling down on us.

When we got to Akjoust in the desert, Roger had planned to billet us in a school. Married couples would be in one room, female singles in another room, and male singles in a third. When we got there, we had keys to only one room. So we all piled in. Someone asked Roger if this was OK. He replied that at this temperature (120 degrees) everything would be just fine. By the way, we got to use the school because Roger had previously taken several gallons of ice cream into the Sahara for the Mayor's 12 children.

Roger had really started something with this eclipse trip and the rest is history. After being presented with Senegal's top medal, many commercial outfits saw fit to copy with eclipse trips of their own. But Roger's was still the best.

I can't begin to mention all the projects in which Roger was involved and often took the lead. He helped design and bring to fruition Sperry Observatory. He led the fight to gain land to preserve our annual Stellafane ... just to name a few.

So who is Roger Tuthill? He is an inventor, a businessman, a family man, a world traveler, an innovator, a lecturer, a leader, but most of all, a friend. I and many others are richer for having known him.

Dr. Lewis C. Thomas
Professor of Astronomy
Union County College
North Plainfield
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