- Clinton B. Ford
Birth and Family
Clinton B. Ford, born on March 1, 1913 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, was the son of Walter and Edith (Banker) Ford. Ford had one brother, Sylvester Ford (1906–1956). The Ford side of the family hailed from Oneonta, New York where it survived until the 1930s. Ford's mother's family came from Ovid, New York.
Ford's father, Walter, was a mathematics professor at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Ford's first brush with the stars came in August 1927 when he went with his father to Boulder, CO to a meeting of the AMA. It was at this point in his life that Ford first saw the splendour the sky could show.
First Brush With the Stars
In the Spring of 1927 Professor Ralph Curtiss loaned Ford two books: Splendour of the Heavens, and The Friendly Stars. In the back of the latter book's original edition there was an invitation by William Tyler Olcott of the AAVSO to contribute to the advancement of astronomy by observing variable stars. Ford took Olcott and the AAVSO up on that invitation and on September 23, 1927, he reported his first variable star estimate - 184205 R Scuti at 5.3 magnitude.
Ford made over 60,000 variable star observations, and became the youngest member of the American Association of Variable Star Observers at the age of 15.
The Voyage to Europe
Ford, by virtue of a sabbatical his father took, was lucky enough to tour Europe, the Middle East, and Egypt when he was 15. Ford spent his 16th birthday in Alexandretta. Among several adventures Ford had at the time, one included climbing to the top of the Great Pyramid and carving his name into it.
Ford also visited several observatories, astronomers, and museums. He used the 6" refractor at the University of Leiden, for example, to make 36 variable star estimates for the AAVSO at this time. Later he visited American astronomer George W. Ritchey then on staff at the Observatoire de Paris where Ritchey told Ford all about his wish to create the 300" 'Apalantic Supertelescope'. We now know this general design today as the 'Ritchey-Chrétien' telescope. Ford also attended a meeting of the Société Astronomique de France while in Paris.
Ford's astronomical adventures in Europe were brought to a conclusion when he visited Greenwich Observatory and stood, on 31 May, "right below the transit slit, with one foot at 23h 59m 59.999s and the other one at 00h 00m 00.001s."
High School and College
Upon returning from Europe, and as he finished high school, Ford found himself working for an aging Professor Edwin B. Frost at Yerkes Observatory partially on the strength of an article he'd written for Popular Astronomy magazine. While at Yerkes he managed to do some variable star observing with some of the smaller telescopes, trace copies of the AAVSO charts that were in the Yerkes files, and learn about developing astronomical plates.
College saw Ford at the University of Michigan. Here he nearly decided to major in English and waited until his sophomore year to take his first astronomy course. In August and September 1932 Ford travelled to Maine to view the total solar eclipse on 31 August. In the Spring of 1933 Ford resolved to "return to science" with regard to his studies. A year later he gained Professor Heber D. Curtis, famous for his part in the Shapley-Curtis Debate on the nature of the galaxy, as his advisor.
He was famous in amateur astronomical circles for his quote, "Never sleep more than 90 feet from your telescope." In 1987 he won the Amateur Achievement Award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific.
When he died, aged 79, he bequeathed a substantial endowment to the AAVSO which continues to serve as its primary source of operating income.
The AAVSO also owns Ford Observatory in southern California named in his honor near Wrightwood (Observatory Code 674). Ithaca College in New York owns a similarly named facility, Ford Observatory, named in his honor in 1998 (Observatory Code 845); it was previously known as Ithaca College Observatory.
- AAVSO, Some Stars, Some Music: The Memoirs of Clinton B. Ford, AAVSO, 1986.
Amateur Achievement Award of Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Jack B. Newton
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