A. F. “Fred” Spilhaus Jr. (1938–2018)


“He was larger than life.” “His legacy won’t quickly be forgotten.” “He left an enduring mark on all he touched.” These sentiments, which are sometimes spoken a few just lately deceased particular person, can look like clichés.

However for A. F. “Fred” Spilhaus Jr., government director emeritus of the American Geophysical Union (AGU), who died on 30 April simply Three weeks shy of his 80th birthday, they’re removed from simply phrases.

Those that have been lucky sufficient to know and work with Fred might communicate of his vibrant character, his sturdy work ethic, his generosity with concepts, his seemingly unflagging vitality, or his attraction to good meals and wine. And Fred embodied all of that.

Fred held an unwavering ardour for AGU and was deeply devoted to its members.Nonetheless, these dedicated to the development of science know that there are fathoms extra. Fred held an unwavering ardour for AGU and was deeply devoted to its members.

When requested, shortly earlier than his retirement, what he felt was most essential amongst his contributions to AGU, Fred famous, “the openness of AGU and the power for anybody concerned within the Earth and area sciences to affix and keep a member. Of equal significance to me is the truth that AGU all the time places the integrity and high quality of science first.”

A Dedication to Communication and to Holding Dues Reasonably priced

Fred held three levels from the Massachusetts Institute of Know-how, together with a Ph.D. in bodily oceanography. After a brief stint as an analyst for the CIA, he was employed in the summertime of 1967 by AGU to be assistant government director.

Considered one of his early assignments was to make the stodgy quarterly Transactions, American Geophysical Union right into a month-to-month journal, which he did with the January 1969 problem, including Eos to its title. Ten years later, Eos turned a weekly tabloid newspaper. Fred served as editor in chief of Eos for 40 years.

Early in Fred’s tenure as AGU’s government director (1970−2009), he attended a convention for society managers the place a speaker talked concerning the significance of decreasing the monetary threshold for membership in order that extra might be part of. The precept was to have a low entry price after which cost for the services and products members used. Fred was so struck by the idea that for greater than Three a long time—till his retirement—he was capable of persuade the Council (as we speak’s Board of Administrators) to maintain dues at $20 for members and to scale back and keep dues for college kids at $7. Fred had a robust numeric base for maintaining the dues low: The dues should all the time cowl the incremental prices of serving a mean member; they all the time did.

Fostering an Worldwide Group
A picture of Fred Spilhaus sailing off Cape Cod.An image of Fred Spilhaus crusing off Cape Cod. Credit score: Spilhaus household

When Fred joined the employees of AGU, he turned an worker of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences. AGU had been based throughout the academy because the U.S. nationwide committee for the Worldwide Union of Geodesy and Geophysics. Solely U.S. residents might be full voting members of AGU as a result of every member was additionally a member of the “committee”; others have been labeled as associates and couldn’t vote or maintain workplace.

When AGU was “invited” to depart the academy and it turned a individually integrated nonprofit group in 1972, Fred thought it will be good to do away with the two-tiered strategy to participation. Though the Bylaws Committee put ahead a doc that eradicated all geographic distinctions, earlier than adopting the proposed bylaws, the Council reinserted U.S. residency as a situation of holding the workplace of president.

5 years later, when Canadian J. Tuzo Wilson was nominated as a candidate for AGU’s president-elect, nobody checked the bylaws. Tuzo received the election. In order that he might serve, a particular election to alter the bylaws was held, and the final vestige of AGU’s being a U.S. society was eliminated by vote of the membership.

The Significance of Giving Again

AGU had sturdy publications and conferences applications, however Fred stated there wanted to be a 3rd leg to the stool, one from which AGU might give again to the broader group. This turned the training, public affairs, and public info applications.

With the assistance of considerate members, a public coverage effort took form. Fred had seen such actions turn out to be divisive in different organizations when politics somewhat than coverage took over. Thus, AGU’s public affairs program turned firmly rooted in offering stable scientific info that might be utilized by decision-makers in legislative and regulatory entities somewhat than a program that lobbied for specific laws. The primary public coverage assertion adopted by AGU, issued in 1981, handled the significance of underlying scientific rules when Earth science was being taught on the precollege stage.

Fred noticed a worldwide community of such societies serving the development of science on the native, nationwide, and worldwide ranges.Having clear pointers for the way coverage statements could be ready was crucial to sustaining AGU’s place as a realized society. The rules ensured that members had the means to supply enter to the coverage statements earlier than they have been finalized.

Fred was additionally an ideal believer within the significance of getting sturdy nationwide and regional scientific societies. He noticed a worldwide community of such societies serving the development of science on the native, nationwide, and worldwide ranges.

Though he wished AGU to be welcoming to all Earth and area scientists and college students anyplace on the earth, he didn’t need the dimensions and success of AGU to maintain different societies from creating. He gave unstintingly of his recommendation to the leaders of different organizations and helped to lend AGU’s sources for the great of others. As new societies acquired began, it was widespread to listen to their leaders clarify their applications with “you understand, it’s like AGU’s” Chapman Conferences or Macelwane Medal.

A Sturdy Chief

Fred’s mantra was “There isn’t a finish to the great you are able to do should you don’t care who will get the credit score.” He had an uncanny present for listening to what members have been saying, particularly in committee conferences, and was fast to determine methods to form these ideas right into a coverage, an motion, or perhaps a new course for AGU. Fred introduced the mindset of a scientist to analyzing issues and creating options.

A snapshot of Fred Spilhaus after he won the Waldo E. Smith Medal in 2010.A snapshot of Fred Spilhaus after he received the Waldo E. Smith Medal in 2010. Credit score: Alik Ismail-Zadeh

He liked being within the midst of the motion, however he didn’t search to be the focus. He had no want for private aggrandizement. Those that skilled his infectious giggle or shared in his pleasure in a very good story, particularly a self-deprecating one, could also be unaware that Fred relished solitude, the place he might recharge his batteries.

He was a person of sturdy opinions; this meant that Fred didn’t all the time see eye to eye with everybody within the varied walks of his skilled life. Fred appreciated that others held passionate views that differed from his. He loved mental sparring and having well-founded, civil arguments. He by no means took arguments personally and by no means held a grudge.

Fred had the best respect for his predecessor, Waldo Smith, and ceaselessly stated that he was glad to have had a Three-year apprenticeship below Waldo’s tutelage. When Fred was nearing retirement and the AGU officers insisted that he have his likeness painted, Fred refused to have it hung till a portrait of Waldo was painted and hung first. Fred’s final official act as government director was to host a small reception of members within the Washington, D. C., space to unveil Waldo’s portrait.

In 2010, Fred was delighted to obtain the AGU tribute that had been named for his mentor: the Waldo E. Smith Medal. It’s maybe becoming that Fred was one of many final to obtain the medal earlier than it was designated as an award.

A Lasting Legacy

AGU wouldn’t be as sturdy as we speak if Fred Spilhaus had not answered the decision and made AGU his life’s mission.Many people who noticed the vitality and fervour Fred dedicated to supporting the volunteer leaders, particularly throughout tough monetary occasions, know that AGU wouldn’t be as sturdy as we speak if Fred Spilhaus had not answered the decision and made AGU his life’s mission. Right this moment’s members and leaders can depend themselves lucky that Fred had broad shoulders on which they might stand.

Fred Spilhaus—scientist, government, mentor, man of braveness, bon vivant, colleague, buddy—turned his zeal for defending the integrity of science and for advancing our understanding of Earth and area right into a profession that enriched people and organizations world wide. Though his legacy will stay, the person who constructed will probably be sorely missed.

—Judy C. Holoviak (e mail: [email protected]), former deputy government director, AGU

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