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November 2007

Remembering John Firor and Janet Roberts

Memorials planned at NCAR

john firor

John Firor.

In early November, John Firor and Janet Roberts, two of the most important and influential people from NCAR’s early days, passed away.

John, 80, died on November 5 in Pullman, Washington. He was one of the first NCAR scientists hired, arriving in 1961. He succeeded Walter Orr Roberts as HAO director and became the second director of NCAR in 1968. From 1974 to 1980, he served as executive director of NCAR, after which he managed ASP until his retirement in 1996.

A native of Athens, Georgia, John earned his Ph.D. in physics at the University of Chicago and studied terrestrial magnetism at the Carnegie Institution. He authored numerous scientific papers on cosmic rays, radio sources in the universe, the Sun’s atmosphere, and solar flares. He also participated in expeditions to observe solar eclipses in New Guinea, Brazil, and Kenya.

Later in his career, John took a keen interest in the intersection of science and society and became an early and eloquent spokesman on the dangers of climate change, testifying before Congressional committees and addressing a broad variety of audiences. His book Our Changing Atmosphere received the Louis Battan Award from the American Meteorological Society. He and his wife, Judith Jacobsen, co-wrote The Crowded Greenhouse, about the links between pclimate change and population growth.

During his many years in NCAR management, John mentored countless numbers of young scientists. He was known for his keen perspective and pgentle sense of humor. When he retired 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.”

John was married for 29 years to Merle Jenkins Firor, who died in 1979, and for 11 years to Judith Jacobsen, who died in 2004. He is survived by four children, a brother and sister, and three grandchildren. A memorial will be held at the Mesa Lab on December 16 at 3:30 p.m.

More about John’s years at NCAR.

janet roberts

Janet and Walt Roberts.

Janet S. Roberts, 89, died on November 1 in Louisville. A native of Lakewood, New Jersey, she married Walt Roberts in 1940. Their honeymoon was spent driving west with the coronagraph that would be installed at the new Fremont Pass Station in Climax, Colorado, as part of Walt’s work to launch the solar observing program that became HAO.

In her autobiography, Glory Hole, Janet describes the car during their road trip. “We had loaded the Graham-Paige [the car] to the bursting point. Boxes filled the back seat and the trunk: the long, slender tube of the coronagraph itself protruded through the front window on the passenger side, grazing my right ear...the old Graham-Paige was heavily loaded with telescope parts, spectrograph gratings, miscellaneous scientific equipment and all our worldly goods.”

In the 1950s, Janet and Walt moved with HAO to Boulder. Many of NCAR’s early staff came to know Janet through regular Sunday gatherings at the couple’s house featuring classical music.

Janet was a leader in her own right who became a Boulder political icon. She served on the Boulder City Council and the city planning board and helped found PLAN–Boulder County, the group that laid critical groundwork for the network of protected open space surrounding Boulder. She was instrumental in crafting the 1961 referendum through which voters approved the construction of the Mesa Lab, with the rest of the mesa preserved in its natural state.

Janet is recognized as a political pioneer for women, running for the state legislature twice and serving as an active member of the League of Women Voters for more than 50 years. She gained a reputation as a role model, tactful leader, and dedicated environmentalist.

Walt passed away in 1990. In her later years, Janet remained in close contact with many friends and colleagues, until a few weeks before her death. She is survived by three of four children, as well as three grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. A memorial will be held at the Mesa Lab on December 15 at 3:30 p.m.•


In this issue...

IPCC contributors share in Nobel Peace Prize

Remembering John Firor and Janet Roberts

Sunrise test flight successful

Same library, new home

A firsthand look at disappearing sea ice

NCAR launches Women in Science committee

Fantastic forum

Staff win awards for science, multicultural service

Just One Look


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