SHA members will have heard of the sad passing of Sir Patrick Moore, on December 9th. Patrick died after a brief spell in hospital. But not before he had recorded December’s ‘Sky at Night’, which was broadcast the week before his death.
Patrick’s commitment to astronomy was legendary. Many of us here in the UK, and around the world, were inspired by his love, his knowledge of, and his enthusiasm for his subject.
For many of us Patrick WAS astronomy, especially in the early years when there were few local societies around, and all our knowledge came from the ‘Sky at Night’ and from books borrowed from the local library.
Patrick was our Honorary Vice President and always took a close interest in what was going on in the Society. Members of Council visited his home several times, where he was a most generous host.
There have been many tributes to Patrick already, and there will be a full obituary in the next Bulletin.
I well remember the first time I encountered Patrick Moore, long before he became ‘Sir’, ‘Dr’ or ‘FRS’. It was during the late 1960s, when he was one of the most prominent English voices linked with media coverage of NASA’s Apollo manned lunar exploration programme, which enthralled me in my primary school days and later.
By then, Patrick’s name was well established as the face of British amateur astronomy. It might even be said that without Patrick few members of the public would have had any idea that there was such a thing as amateur astronomy or that its practitioners were making important contributions to what we know today as “citizen science”.
I knew little enough about it myself at the time; my practical interest in astronomy was inspired, you see, by my passion for reading science fiction and by seeing and hearing Patrick on BBC TV and radio, especially in ‘The Sky At Night’. A great highlight of those times for me was discovering Patrick’s now mighty legacy of books in my second home – the Bloxwich public library.
I wrote to Patrick in those early days and, always generous with his time, he invariably answered, with advice both practical and inspirational. Over the years, I had occasional opportunities to meet him, and even helped him out of a jam when he spoke in Birmingham one time, but I could never have dreamed of actually working with him as a colleague. That was before the existence of the Society for the History of Astronomy, which in a very real sense came about because Patrick inspired me to take up astronomy myself.
Patrick’s inspiration and my professional involvement in local history led me inexorably to a connection with another great friend and inspiration, the remarkable Dr Allan Chapman. Allan and I came together to set up the SHA in 2002 and, when our other late and much-missed friend Ken Goward joined forces with us, followed by so many others, it was clear that our choice of the Society’s honorary officers would lead me back full circle to Patrick.
So it was that Allan became our Hon. President, Ken Goward suggested the eminent Dr Michael Hoskin as an Hon. Vice President on the academic side, and I proposed that we likewise invite Sir Patrick to represent both amateur astronomy and its history, as an essential part of the SHA’s raison d’etre. The SHA’s new Council concurred unanimously.
Patrick, generous as ever with his time, his support, his friendship – and yes, his inspiration once again, worked with us and lent his support to us over the following years, and the rest is, quite literally, history.
As a Council and as a Society we have been personal witnesses to, and have participated in, the final decade of a man who has been the greatest inspirer of public interest in astronomy in the 20th and 21st centuries. Most importantly, his legacy, his history and the memory of his friendship inspires us still, and always will.
Co-founder and General Secretary, SHA