Memories of Roger Tuthill
(Reprinted from Letters to the Editor of The Journal, dated 01/04/01)
By Dr. Lewis C. Thomas
To The Journal:
On December 16, Roger Tuthill, a resident of Mountainside, died. He was well
known throughout the amateur astronomers' world as the person who founded the
now popular solar eclipse trips and the one who more than anyone helped promote
the love of stargazing. The following is my personal tribute to him.
Who is Roger Tuthill? I have known him for years. I remember when he cooked
pancakes for my family and me in the 60's at Pleasant Pond, Maine. We had all
gone there to view a total solar eclipse. My older son, Bart, remembers him too.
Those pancakes sure were good.
Roger worked across the street from me at Airco while I was at Bell Labs in
Murray Hill. We talked often on the phone. He told me he was thinking of leaving
his job and going into business for himself. This he did. He established the
most helpful and friendly business I have ever seen. All amateur astronomers got
to know him.
One day in early 1960, he came to see my rooftop observatory in North
Plainfield. It was atop a pyramid roof ... a converted widow's walk. A week
later he invited me to his rooftop observatory. We walked up a few steps and an
incline. And there it was equipped with his home made telescope. Later he built
a large 20-inch scope which he took to Stellafane.
In early 1970, Roger told me he was thinking of forming an expedition to Africa
to see one of the longest total solar eclipses of the century. It was in the
western Sahara Desert and he said to me, "I don't know if we can do it. But if
we can it will be great!" And it was. I remember arriving in Dakar, Senegal,
along with 200 AAIers and seeing an unshaven Roger sitting in a balcony and
smiling down on us.
When we got to Akjoust in the desert, Roger had planned to billet us in a
school. Married couples would be in one room, female singles in another room,
and male singles in a third. When we got there, we had keys to only one room.
So we all piled in. Someone asked Roger if this was OK. He replied that at
this temperature (120 degrees) everything would be just fine. By the way, we
got to use the school because Roger had previously taken several gallons of
ice cream into the Sahara for the Mayor's 12 children.
Roger had really started something with this eclipse trip and the rest is
history. After being presented with Senegal's top medal, many commercial
outfits saw fit to copy with eclipse trips of their own. But Roger's was still
I can't begin to mention all the projects in which Roger was involved and
often took the lead. He helped design and bring to fruition Sperry Observatory.
He led the fight to gain land to preserve our annual Stellafane ... just to
name a few.
So who is Roger Tuthill? He is an inventor, a businessman, a family man, a
world traveler, an innovator, a lecturer, a leader, but most of all, a friend.
I and many others are richer for having known him.
Dr. Lewis C. Thomas
Professor of Astronomy
Union County College