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Patrick James Kennedy, 1945-1995

International friendship: Pat Kennedy and two of his students in Mexico.
Scientist, teacher, prankster, friend: Pat Kennedy filled all of these roles and others with distinction. The CGD associate scientist died on 30 December in Louisville, Kentucky, after more than a year of illness. For a quarter century--half of his life--Pat's presence graced the Mesa Lab and touched the hearts and minds of thousands, adults and schoolchildren alike.

A native of Louisville, Pat received his bachelor's degree at the University of Notre Dame and his master's in astrogeophysics at the University of Colorado. He joined NCAR in 1970 and was most recently affiliated with CGD's Climate Change Research Section. Pat's research interests included mountain waves, turbulent interactions, and the incorporation of surface physics into atmospheric models. He served as a co-principal investigator and project scientist for Project LEARN (Laboratory Experience in Atmospheric Research at NCAR), which trained middle-school teachers at NCAR over three consecutive summers.

It was Pat's intense love of teaching science to youngsters, coupled with his unusual selflessness, that brought him in touch with so many other lives. During the 1980s Pat took eight mostly unpaid weeks a year away from his CGD duties to teach at Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos (Our Little Brothers and Sisters) orphanage near Cuernavaca, Mexico. "It purges the mind to step into another way of life, another way of seeing the world," Pat told Staff Notes in 1984. "The Mexican children give me as much as I give them; they expand my perspective on the world. . . . The way I look at it, I become the orphan when I go to visit them. They adopt me, and I am richer for the experience." Pat also did volunteer teaching in Jackson County, Kentucky, using census data to select the areas most in need.

Closer to home, Pat was a tireless volunteer at local science fairs and performed demonstrations for countless school groups on and off the mesa. His efforts were recognized by UCAR in 1994, when Pat received the first-ever Outstanding Performance Award for Education.

We asked a few of the people closest to Pat what they were thinking, feeling, and remembering shortly after his death. Below are some of their reflections on the unassuming scientist who made an uncommon mark on his workplace and community.

Larry McDaniel worked with Pat for many years in CGD.

I went to visit Pat on the Sunday morning after he came out of the coma [after a seizure earlier this year]. He wasn't ready for visitors, so I sat in the waiting room with two guys in their mid-30s. It turned out they were two of Pat's student friends that he met when they were in high school. When we went in to see Pat he was physically and emotionally drained and scared. They started telling stories--his two friends would tell me what the three of them had done and Pat would add his part or a differing view of events. We all laughed till we had tears in our eyes.

Pat once lived on the top floor of the house that one of the visitor's parents owned. They were making smoke bombs and the mix got too hot and went off. The result was smoke pouring out all four sides of the house while the three of them ran out to escape the smoke. Another story involved tying homemade bombs to helium-filled balloons and having them go off above the tree tops of the neighborhood!

I'm not a religious man but I spent time with Pat, as did many of his friends and colleagues, through some difficult periods. His faith was strong and supported him in a most beautiful way. Pat was modest, intelligent, independent, challenging, supportive, and understanding, and a friend I'm sure we will--as we have in recent months--miss and think about all our lives.

Former CGD director Warren Washington recalls one of Pat's most recent projects: a poster summarizing the attributes of NCAR's various climate models.

That poster was Pat's idea. He had been serving as an information source for people who would call up and ask about characteristics of the different models. There are lots of scientists and students who want to collaborate using the models. The poster was very well received; I've found it on the walls in a lot of atmospheric science departments around the country. It also led to a lot of e-mail traffic from all over the world. Pat, in his normal kind way, was very patient with people unfamiliar with modeling and would politely discourage those who weren't able to deal with running climate models.

James Adams was a housemate of Pat's as well as a colleague in CGD.

Pat's commitment to education and learning extended to every facet of his life, resulting in an almost childlike curiosity and interest in many nonscientific pursuits. He was most proud of his association with NCAR and the many educational opportunities it allowed him as a scientist (the orphanage in Mexico, Boulder schools, Project LEARN) to give of himself. Pat personified a Christian ideal that even those of us without religious convictions can admire. From meeting many of Pat's friends and associates from his long career at NCAR, I know that he touched many people's lives in a very positive way. He will be sorely missed and remembered well.

Dan Anderson, now in SCD, shared a Mesa Lab office with Pat for five years in the 1970s.

At the time we were officemates, Pat was developing some of his sixth-grade curriculum toys. Once he brought in a homemade engine, filled it with dry ice, and hung it from the light fixtures. It wound up to a tremendous velocity and started to climb the string. We evacuated the office and got Lois Gries [their secretary] out of the outer office because we were afraid it might develop enough pressure to explode. Then there was the time Pat demonstrated his propane-powered tennis ball launcher, which shot the ball from our east double doors to [former NCAR director] Francis Bretherton's double doors on the west end of the third floor. Francis stuck his head out blinking and, seeing who it was, just grinned.

I also remember the time that Pat painted the office floor of our next-door neighbor Mel Shapiro [now at NOAA] with ammonium iodide, which dried overnight. When Mel stepped on it the next morning, it went off with a bang and Mel staggered out, baffled.

Pat and I used to debate theology, me the devout atheist and he the devout evangelical Catholic. He always found my views interesting and the only gentle rebuke I would ever get was that "God would pray for me." Pat had such a love for teaching science to kids, and often they would come up to the office to see him years later as high school or college students in science. I think Pat may have affected science in this country more than NCAR has. He was truly a kind and gentle man.

Rene Munoz worked with Pat on numerous school-group visits and other science education efforts.

I had a very touching experience earlier this month. A young man came by my office to see "the room that had been named after my good friend Pat Kennedy." He is in construction work, not science, but had met Pat years ago and kept in touch ever since. He was misty-eyed as I recounted the dedication of the Mesa Lab classroom to Pat in the ceremony last spring attended by many of his NCAR colleagues.

Pat's weather instruments and his boxes of science experiments have been donated to the Education and Tour Program. We would be so pleased to lend them to any staff who might be going to a school or who have students coming in to visit. This can be one way to remember his contributions and what he meant to us--taking a little piece of his work and nurturing it yourself.

Bob Chervin was another long-time colleague of Pat's in CGD. They shared an office shortly after Bob came to NCAR as a postdoctoral researcher.

Wednesday [3 January], as I was driving up the mesa, being buffeted by winds, a smile came to my face. I suddenly remembered that Pat really enjoyed the Boulder windstorms. Wednesday happened to be the day of Pat's funeral. It was as if the Boulder winds were bidding Pat a fond farewell.

A memorial service for Pat will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, 7 February, at St. Thomas Aquinas University Parish, 904 14th Street. Memorials in Pat's name may be made to Hospice of Louisville, 3532 Ephraim McDowell Drive, Louisville KY 40205-3224, 1-800-264-0521; Boulder County Hospice, 2825 Marine Street, Boulder CO 80303; or to a newly created fund at UCAR to support science education efforts (see sidebar).

The Patrick J. Kennedy Memorial Education Fund

Pat's legacy will live on at NCAR through a special fund recently created to support science education activities in classrooms. The purposes, specified by Pat himself, include materials for scientists or teachers for classroom use or projects initiated by teachers and students to conduct experiments and observations. There are no educational-level or geographic limitations on the use of funds; however, no funds may be used for general operating costs, such as salaries and benefits or overhead. Donations will be tax-deductible to contributors. Checks should be made out to UCAR, with the Kennedy Fund noted on the same line or on a memo line, and sent to Cindy Schmidt, UCAR North (or to Cindy Schmidt, UCAR, P.O. Box 3000, Boulder CO 80307-3000).

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Prepared for the Web by Jacque Marshall
Last revised: Thu Mar 30 11:41:07 MST 2000