Monday, January 16, 2012

Deceased--Patricia "Patsy" Edson Tombaugh

Patricia "Patsy" Edson Tombaugh
November 7th, 1912 to January 12th, 2012

"Community leader, wife of astronomer, Tombaugh dies at 99"


S. Derrickson Moore

January 13th, 2912

Alamogordo Daily News

Patricia "Patsy" Edson Tombaugh, community leader, educator, artist, and enthusiastic supporter of her astronomy pioneer husband Clyde, discover of the planet Pluto, died Thursday at the Arbors of Del Rey in Las Cruces. She was 99.

"Mother was born Nov. 7, 1912, and hoped to enjoy celebrating her 100th birthday with New Mexico's Centennial this year, but her body just gave out," said her daughter Annette Tombaugh Sitze of Las Cruces.

She was in Florida for the 2006 launch of the New Horizons Pluto Probe, which carried Clyde's ashes, and expressed hopes to live to see it reach Pluto in 2015.

She met Clyde Tombaugh shortly after his 1930 discovery of Pluto, when he entered Kansas University as a freshman in 1932, and stayed at her mother's rooming house. They were married in 1934 and had two children, Annette and Alden, both Las Cruces residents.

Known for her sense of humor, she once joked that "Pluto was his first love" and she had to compete with several planets, comets and assorted other heavenly bodies to attract his attention.

But it was clear, through their six-decade marriage that she was the love of his life, and it was her connections that steered the course of his life after his early astronomical coup.

"My uncle, James Edson, my mother's brother, introduced them and it was my uncle, who also brought Werner von Braun here, who was responsible for bringing them to Las Cruces in 1946," Sitze said.

As Chief of Optical Measurements Section at White Sands Proving Ground, Tombaugh was responsible for the tracking telescopes used to photograph rockets and missiles during test flights, and his wife quickly established herself as a community leader here.

She was a founder of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Las Cruces, one of the area's first art associations, and the Community Concerts Association and was active in the University Women's Association, the Women's Improvement Association and the Tombaugh Scholars Program Foundation at NMSU.

She also taught for many years at regional schools, including Old South Ward, Valley View and Connelly elementary schools.

"I think she'll be remembered as a vibrant person very interested in the arts and education. We were very fortunate to have had them as our parents. We could always believe in the truth of what they said. They developed a home that was reliable and cozy," said her son Alden Tombaugh.

She worked closely with Clyde on lecture tours throughout the world until his death in 1997 in their Mesilla Park home. She was a frequent guest at some regional institutions that bear the family name, including Clyde Tombaugh Elementary School, NMSU's Clyde W. Tombaugh Campus Observatory and Tombaugh IMAX Dome Theatre at the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo.

She attracted new friends and fans after her 2010 appearance on "The Pluto Files" on PBS's NOVA series, focusing on the conflict over the 2006, still-controversial meeting of the International Astronomical Union, when a vote involving 424 astronomers defined the term "planet" for the first time, a definition which excluded Pluto and added it as a member of the new "dwarf planet" category.

The NOVA crew came to Las Cruces 2009 to film locations that included Alden Tombaugh's home and the Tombaugh Art Gallery, which houses a stained glass window depicting Clyde's life, at the Unitarian Universalist Church, which the Tombaughs helped found in 1954.

"She spoke lucidly and articulately about their life together. This was a treasure of storytelling. That has got to be the friendliest family I have ever spent time with in my life. I learned how friendly people can be, even in times of intellectual conflict," said NOVA host Neil Tyson. Tyson had been one of the ringleaders in the effort to demote Pluto, but changed his mind after meeting Patricia and her family.

In addition to her son and daughter, she leaves five grandchildren, nine great-granchildren and one great-great grandchild.

"New Horizons Team Remembers Patsy Tombaugh"

January 16th, 2012

It was January 2006, just days before the New Horizons spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. A reporter asked Patsy Tombaugh, widow of Pluto’s discoverer, Clyde Tombaugh, what her husband might have thought about the first mission to the planet he found in 1930.

“He’d be very happy about it,” she said, “because he’d really want to know what they were finding out about Pluto.”

Today, the team fulfilling that wish mourns Patsy Tombaugh, who died Jan. 12 in Las Cruces, N.M. She was 99.

"I will never forget Patsy's enthusiasm in New Horizons and her pride in what we're doing,” said Alan Stern, New Horizons principal investigator, from the Southwest Research Institute. "I'll also never forget her smile and winning way. On behalf of the entire New Horizons team, I want to express our condolences to Patsy's family and friends, and to say that when we explore Pluto in three years, she will be as much on our minds and in our hearts, as she is today."

Patricia “Patsy” Edson met Clyde Tombaugh in the spring of 1933; her older brother James and Clyde were astronomy majors at the University of Kansas, and good friends. They married in June 1934; daughter Annette was born in 1940 and son Alden in 1945. But, as Patsy wrote in a 2005 New Horizons web story, their “family” seemed much larger.

“Living with Clyde Tombaugh was like having the celestial universe in the next room, but I found it a very good neighbor,” she wrote.

“Of course, I always had to share Clyde not only with Mars, Jupiter, the Moon, and stars, but also with the public. As the Space Age grew so did Clyde's fan mail. From all over this world came letters from all age groups asking for information or autographs. He once said that he had received at least 30,000 letters. He tried to answer each one.”

Clyde died in 1997. In addition to her son and daughter, Patsy is survived by five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild. A memorial service is planned for Feb. 12 in Las Cruces.

"My Life with Clyde Tombaugh"


Patricia E. Tombaugh

October 31st, 2005

Living with Clyde Tombaugh was like having the celestial universe in the next room, but I found it a very good neighbor. Mars and the Moon were his favorite telescopic studies. At the age of 12 Clyde found astronomy through his love of geography. What would be the geography of other planets?

When Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto in February 1930, I was in high school at Westport High in Kansas City, Missouri. I graduated in 1931, and about a year later my widowed mother moved us to Lawrence, Kansas. There, her three children were to work their way through their father's (J.O. Edson's) alma mater, the University of Kansas.

I met Clyde in the spring of 1933. He and my older brother, James B. Edson, were astronomy majors and good friends at KU. James brought Clyde to rent a room at our house for the next school year. Clyde returned to Lowell Observatory for the summer, and we exchanged letters during that time.

In the fall of 1933, Clyde (who had a scholarship) returned to Lawrence to be a student roomer at our house. During that year the Syzygy Club formed. The club's six or seven members met at our house. We talked of rockets and space travel, space platforms and astronauts. We never spoke to the outsiders about this. They thought we were really and completely crazy. I had painted tennis balls to look like Mars and Jupiter. Clyde thought any girl who was that into astronomy was pretty cool. We were married June 7, 1934, with a small event at my mother's home. I had finished my freshman year and Clyde his sophomore year. I was 21, and he was 28.

We spent summers in Flagstaff, Arizona, at Lowell Observatory as we worked our way through college. Clyde was still on the project searching for a 10th planet. We lived in a small, brown, shingled cottage on the observatory grounds among the pine trees 300 feet above the town. We cooked and heated with wood fires and had no refrigerator, telephone, or washing machine. It was a new experience for this city girl, but I loved this beautiful and interesting place, meeting very special people, and getting acquainted with the ways of various Native American tribes there. Flagstaff's population then was about 4,000 people.

Clyde finished his first degree in 1936. We then went to live and work at the observatory full-time. After saving up for two years we returned to KU. Clyde received his master's degree in astronomy, and I finished my degree in philosophy in 1939. We returned to Flagstaff and to parenthood: daughter, Annette, was born in 1940 and son, Alden, in 1945. In 1942, we bought a house in Flagstaff and moved off of Mars Hill into town.

During World War II Clyde had been called to teach navigation to new Navy pilots at the Northern Arizona College. He was also Commander of Civil Defense for Coconino County, Arizona. At the end of WW II many changes occurred rapidly. In 1945, Clyde was a visiting professor at UCLA. In 1946, he left Lowell Observatory. We moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where he was Chief of the Optical Measurements section at White Sands Proving Grounds (WSPG). There the American Space Age was in its birth pangs. We watched the delivery with great joy and excitement! The children grew, and I worked on the New Mexico State University campus at the Physical Science Laboratory reading rocket film and plotting flight trajectories.

After nine years with rockets, Clyde wanted to get back into astronomy. He proposed and received a grant to search for small natural satellites of the Earth. He left WSPG (now WSMR, for White Sands Missile Range), moving this project to the Physical Science Laboratory on the NMSU. campus. Clyde later established a Planetary Research Center there, which was supported by grant money. These efforts led to the creation of a Department of Astronomy for a doctoral degree program at NMSU, and also a leading observatory called Apache Point. Apache Point is financed and used by a consortium of universities and the Sloan Digital Project exploring the outer edge of the universe.

Of course, I always had to share Clyde not only with Mars, Jupiter, the Moon, and stars, but also with the public. As the Space Age grew so did Clyde's fan mail. From all over this world came letters from all age groups asking for information or autographs. He once said that he had received at least 30,000 letters. He tried to answer each one.

Clyde had minored in geology to apply that knowledge to the study of Mars and the Moon. He later taught geology at NMSU. He collected rocks everywhere. He carried an Earth globe in his head and loved maps and glass - colored or clear. He had a weather station of his own and made a graph of rainfall in Las Cruces over the years showing drought periods. He was a master at creating telescope mirrors and always had one in process.

Clyde loved animals. He said he spent more time with horses on the farm than with his family. He knew the game of football. He was once asked to call a play at an NMSU game - that call resulted in a field run and a touchdown. They gave him an "honorary coach" plaque.

The press, media, civic clubs, and schools gained from Clyde's willingness to share his passion for the study of the heavens. He was an excellent teacher. A beautiful Las Cruces elementary school carries his name. Being a Depression child on a farm, he kept everything and delighted in making trash into something. He had a cluttered desk in his office - I called it organized chaos. Yet he knew where each thing was hidden among the pile.

Las Cruces loved Clyde. Three of our governors named a state day to honor him. Schoolchildren over the world love Pluto. It is small like they are.

Clyde would have been very excited and interested in the new 10th planet. His life was not wrapped around Pluto. His life was wrapped around the study of the whole universe. Of course, Pluto made him a star to others, and he tried to satisfy the demand. He said his most reverent moments were at the eyepiece of a telescope.

Clyde W. Tombaugh was a caring person. He wanted to give young people credit for their role in any project. Thus, giving them a good start in the field.

Clyde was granted his wish to reach age 90, living to within three weeks of being 91. He was one happy man the day of his 90th birthday party - many family members, friends from the days of White Sands, NMSU, and the Unitarian Church that he helped to establish in Las Cruces were there to help him celebrate. He died on January 17, 1997.

Clyde and I were a great team.


Personal thoughts and reflection by Laurel Kornfeld...

"In Memoriam: Patsy Tombaugh, 1912-2012"

January 20th, 2012

One week before the sixth anniversary of New Horizons’ launch on January 19, Patricia (Patsy) Edson Tombaugh, widow of Pluto’s discoverer Clyde Tombaugh, died in Las Cruces, New Mexico, at age 99.

To many “Pluto huggers”—a term coined by Mike Wrathell to describe supporters of Pluto’s planet status—this loss feels personal. Whether we had had the good fortune of meeting her, or whether she was an icon we admired for her longevity, tenacity, and many accomplishments, to so many of us, it feels like we have lost a family member.

Patsy Tombaugh was so much more than the wife of an astronomer. She was a teacher, a promoter of the arts, an active member of women’s advocacy groups, a co-founder of Las Cruces’ Unitarian Universalist Church, along with her husband, a promoter of education and of the Tombaugh Scholars Foundation at New Mexico State University, and since 2006, a staunch advocate for Pluto’s planet status.

And she had dreamed not only of celebrating her 100th birthday this coming November, but of seeing the 2015 New Horizons flyby of the planet her husband had discovered way back in 1930, before the two were married, when Patsy was still in high school.

She attended the New Horizons launch in 2006, an event that moved her to tears. She also took part in the dedication of her late husband’s telescope at Rancho Hidalgo in 2009. That same year, she was present when the New Mexico House of Representatives passed a resolution declaring March 13 Pluto Planet Day, in defiance of the IAU vote.

When that vote took place, Patsy initially remarked that she had “lost her job” promoting Pluto and keeping it in the public eye, assuring the little world didn’t get forgotten in the wake of so many new discoveries in the outer solar system—not to mention discoveries in other solar systems entirely.

But that reaction didn’t last. She was invited to take part in a 2009 Nova TV version of The Pluto Files organized by Neil de Grasse Tyson, who was so impressed with the kindness and friendship of the Tombaugh family when he visited them in New Mexico, that he actually began rethinking his position on Pluto. Reviewed on this blog three years ago, that Nova episode featured a Tyson who had gone from saying he “killed” Pluto to one who publicly recognized the existence of an ongoing debate, even placing a plaque in the Rose Center noting that Pluto’s status remains in dispute. Towards the end of the episode, Tyson invites Tombaugh daughter Annette to the Rose Center in New York City and proudly displays the plaque to her.

Unfortunately, Patsy was unable to attend the 2008 Great Planet Debate. The family was well represented, however, as Annette, her husband Wilbur Sitze, and their grandson Kyle were all there—and signed the petition I would send to the IAU General Assembly one year later.

Patsy was very much a woman ahead of her time. In an age when few women pursued post-secondary education, she worked her way through college, earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Kansas in 1939.

Along with her brother James Edson, an astronomy major, and Clyde, his friend whom she met in 1933, she actively participated in a group known as the Syzygy Club, a small group of six or seven young visionaries who discussed issues like space travel and rockets. Today, or even back in the 1960s, such groups and discussions are common and mostly well accepted, but in the 1930s, that was not the case. The group never spoke to outsiders about the Syzygy Club for fear of being thought crazy, Patsy noted in a 2005 essay, “My Life with Clyde Tombaugh.”

Her interest in astronomy was exciting to Clyde, as he knew few women who shared that interest. After the Tombaughs were married, she accompanied him to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he worked at the Lowell Observatory. In the early days, that meant “roughing it,” living without phones, refrigerators, or washing machines, and cooking with wood fires. While there, Patsy took the time to meet members of various Native American tribes and learn their ways—a practice that did not become popular in the general culture until the 1960s.

Like Jules Verne back in the 1860s, visionaries are all about imagining the future, thinking beyond the limitations of the present day. Patsy and her husband Clyde were such visionaries, which is why it is not surprising that she set her sights on seeing Pluto up close in 2015.

So many astronomy and space exploration fans, including those who disagree with classing Pluto as a planet, had been rooting for Patsy to live this dream. Still vibrant and active at 99, she became a symbol of longevity and tenacity, a link between the past and the future, an inspiration to others that life could be not just a long journey, but an exciting one, filled with wonder and trust in what could be.

Writer Alan Boyle reports that when he visited Patsy in 2009, she realized the Pluto discussion was not going away any time soon. “It looks like we’re going to have to keep on discussing this,” he quotes her as telling him.

No question about that! And no shortage of people eager to discuss it!

One cannot help but feel sadness at the realization that Patsy will not be with us to realize her dream of seeing the New Horizons Pluto flyby. Yet at the same time, we can also honor a life well lived, a life ten months short of a century.

A friend and commenter on Facebook, on hearing of her passing, said, “I really hoped she’d live to see Pluto…She can see it perfectly now though.”

In their tribute to New Horizons, the band Elias-Fey sings, noting the presence of some of Clyde’s ashes on the spacecraft, “Ole Clyde’s hitching a ride back to where he belongs. Far out of this world, to infinity and beyond. You gotta believe. Because that’s what keeps us moving on. An American dream to where no one’s ever gone.”

I choose to believe that my Facebook friend is right, that Patsy can see Pluto perfectly now. And I know too many people to count will be thinking of her when the flyby happens three years from now.

Farewell, and rest in peace, Mrs. Tombaugh.


And Clyde named an asteroid after her...asteroid 3310 [Patsy] [October 9th, 1931].

Thanks to Laurel K. for the notice.


Laurel Kornfeld said...

You're welcome, and thank you for posting this. I wish Patsy had lived to see the New Horizons flyby, something she had really wanted to do.

Anonymous said...

R.I.P dear lady .