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October 1998

Bill Roberts, 1955-1998

Bill Roberts found a favorite spot for this 1988 photo: on top of Bear Mountain's Overhang Rock, behind the Mesa Lab.

Bill Roberts, a software engineer in HAO since 1985, died on 21 August in Boulder Community Hospital from complications following a motorcycle accident in Boulder Canyon on 2 August. Since 1990, Bill had been struggling with a particularly invasive form of brain cancer. His ordeal brought together many friends and colleagues from HAO who provided support during years of surgeries and treatment.

Born in Louisiana, Bill moved in his teens with his family to Casper, Wyoming. He quickly took up rock climbing, which was then a less popular sport than today. "He was one of the top rock climbers in the world in the late 1970s and 1980s," says HAO colleague Alice Lecinski. Bill achieved several first ascents in Wyoming's Vedauwoo area (between Laramie and Cheyenne) and in the nearby Snowy Range. "You have to remember that in this period, nobody did these kinds of difficult climbs. Bill and his friends would go up and try it and, more often than not, succeed," says Alice.

Bill attended Casper College and the University of Wyoming, where he earned his bachelor's degree in astrophysics and later took occasional graduate courses while at NCAR. According to Alice, Bill was only two credit hours from a second bachelor's degree in mathematics upon graduation, "but he decided he'd rather go climbing in Yosemite." After college, Bill worked at Martin Marietta in Denver before joining HAO. He worked on the Solar Maximum Mission coronagraph project in the late 1980s before shifting to HAO's upper-atmosphere programs, where he provided software support for Ray Roble, Art Richmond, and other scientists.

Not long after Bill's initial diagnosis, Paul Charbonneau organized the BSMT: Bill's Support and Maintenance Team. The group drove Bill to treatments and fixed meals for him afterward. "Many fellow workers at HAO were part of this tremendous effort, and I believe strongly the observatory has become a better place through this," says HAO director Michael Knölker. "In a long struggle that we witnessed for many years, Bill remained an active and productive member of the HAO staff and also pursued many of the hobbies he loved so much."

"Bill was always upbeat, even with his brain tumor," recalls Alice, "a really impressive example of how one can deal with a life-threatening disease. He'd have brain surgery and be back at work in two weeks. He really liked it here. He'll be very seriously missed by all the people at HAO." •BH

Contributions in honor of Bill may be made to The Access Fund, 2475 Broadway, Boulder 80304 or Boulder County Hospice, 2825 Marine Street, Boulder 80303.

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

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