Remembering John Firor and Janet Roberts
Memorials planned at NCAR
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,
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
about John’s years at NCAR.
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
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
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
In this issue...
contributors share in Nobel Peace Prize
John Firor and Janet Roberts
test flight successful
library, new home
firsthand look at disappearing sea ice
launches Women in Science committee
win awards for science, multicultural service
Just One Look
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