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Remembering John Firor


UCAR is mourning the loss of one of its longest-serving and most influential leaders. John Firor, who directed NCAR from 1968 to 1974, died on 5 November after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.

John Firor

John Firor. (Photo by Carlye Calvin.)

Firor was one of the first scientists hired by NCAR, arriving in 1961 to head the High Altitude Observatory just as HAO was being absorbed into the new center. From 1974 to 1980, Firor served as executive director of NCAR, after which he managed the Advanced Study Program up to his retirement in 1996. He mentored countless numbers of young scientists, maintaining his gentle sense of humor and his keen perspective. Upon retiring from NCAR, he said, "I have been a continuous member of the directors' committee for over 34 years. This is a record that probably should never be broken."

Born in Athens, Georgia, in 1927, Firor earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago and studied terrestrial magnetism at the Carnegie Institution before joining NCAR. He wrote many papers on cosmic rays, radio sources in the universe, the Sun's atmosphere, and solar flares. Firor also participated in expeditions to observe solar eclipses in New Guinea, Brazil, and Kenya.

Later in his career, Firor took a keen interest in the intersection of science and society, and he became one of the earliest and most eloquent spokespeople on the dangers of human-induced climate change, testifying before Congressional committees and addressing a broad variety of audiences. His book Our Changing Atmosphere (1990) received the Louis Battan Award from the American Meteorological Society. Firor and his second wife, Judith Jacobsen, co-wrote The Crowded Greenhouse (2002), on the links between climate change and population growth.

More about Firor can be found in a 1996 Staff Notes article on his retirement.

Obituary on John Firor (PDF file, 310 KB), by Peter Gilman, Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society 41 (2009), 1204–05. Reproduced by permission of the AAS.

 

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