December 2014. Harry Ford is recognised as Honoray Vice President of Dundee Astronomical Society
The post of Honorary Vice-President was established within Dundee Astronomical Society in 1988 and awarded to Tom Flood, founder member of DAS and longtime assistant to Harry Ford at Mills Observatory. The next holder of the post was Bill Dow, first President of DAS, a respected teacher who was asked to become the first President by the founders of the Society. Harry Ford has now been asked to take the post and was pleased to accept, so becoming our third Honorary Vice-President.
Harry Ford was one of the founder members of DAS back in the late summer of 1956. He had an interest in astronomy from an early age and by the mid-1950s was making telescopes from anything he could get his hands on. In these days, astronomical telescopes were few and those which were available were extremely costly so Harry obtained ex WD lenses and improvised. These early telescopes were excellently made and showed the skills which Harry had and would put to good use later in his life. It was his early interest and also his contact with others with similar interests, our Honorary President among them, that saw the beginnings of the DAS.
My first meeting with Harry Ford was when I joined the DAS in January 1958 and went along to the Law Allotments Committee Hut where meetings were being held at that time. We would hear talks about astronomy from local members then we would retire to Tom Flood’s greenhouse to observe with his tripod mounted refractor. This was the first time that I had looked through a proper telescope at objects like the Moon and planets and these amazing sights were augmented by descriptions and explanations by more experienced members, notably by Harry himself. Looking back on these days, it should be no surprise that Harry became a notable ambassador for bringing astronomy to the public.
In 1963 Harry became assistant to Dr Jaroslav Cisar. Cisar was an astronomer at the University of St Andrews and attended Mills on Monday and Friday evenings as part-time curator. Harry succeeded Cisar and became full time curator in 1970. It was then that DAS was able to use the facilities of Mills and with Harry’s enthusiasm and encouragement, DAS members entered into various projects, not least of which was the Transient Lunar Phenomena (TLP) network set up by Patrick Moore, then Director of the BAA Lunar Section. The work done at Mills under the leadership of Harry became well known and this prompted Patrick Moore to ask if it would be possible to hold a BAA Lunar section meeting at Mills Observatory. The first, and very successful meeting was held there on 10th June 1972 and was followed by another on the 4th May 1974. It was after the Lunar Section meetings, at a point when Patrick had many commitments, when he asked Harry to succeed him as section director. Harry became the Lunar Section Director in 1976, a post he held until 1978.
Harry’s influence extended to all the members of DAS but a few of the members went on to study astronomy and become distinguished astronomers. Two members in particular come to mind. One is the prolific discoverer of comets and asteroids who worked for many years at Siding Spring Observatory in Australia. His name is, of course, Robert McNaught who spent many a night at Mills observing and would sleep in the building for the few remaining hours until daylight. Another was Neil Reid who was very interested in variable stars and, again encouraged by Harry, ended up in Mount Palomar Observatory, discovering the smallest star known at the time.
By 1982 Harry had married Lynne and for family reasons decided to move down south to Southend. Shortly after arriving and setting up home there, Harry decided to construct and operate a planetarium which was established in the Central Museum of Southend. The construction of the ‘dome’ and projector was undertaken by Harry himself and it is believed that the planetarium is still run by the museum.
In 1986 a post of Planetarium Lecturer became available at the Old Royal Observatory, Greenwich. Harry was recognized as being the ideal candidate and was appointed to this post which he held until his retirement in 2003. I well remember travelling to Greenwich with Dave Gavine to attend Harry’s retirement party and I will also never forget the shock which showed on Harry’s face when he saw gathered so many of his old friends from all parts of the country.
In his quest to spread knowledge about astronomy, Harry wrote two books for children. The first of these was ‘100 Questions and Answers on Astronomy and Space Travel’ (1994) which was followed in 1998 by ‘The Young Astronomer’. He has also published a number of articles about astronomy and astronomical history in a number of journals including the Scots Magazine.
Harry has received a number of recognitions and awards for his work in promoting astronomy to the public. In 1985 he was awarded the Lorimer medal of the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh. This medal has only been presented twelve times since its inception in 1938 and the recipients include Sir James Jeans, Sir Harold Spencer Jones, Sir Patrick Moore and your own Honorary President, Dr Dave Gavine. The National Maritime Museum presented Harry with the Callendar Award in 1996 and in 2000 Harry Ford was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science by Abertay University, Dundee. In 2003 he received an MBE for his services to museum education.
This is only a sketchy account of one of our founder and most respected members now recognized by the Dundee Astronomical Society as their Honorary Vice-President. I could write so much more about Harry, tales of his work photographing the aurora, of the building of Powrie Observatory, of his adventures on the Eclipse Trip of 1973, but it would end up as a veritable tome. Perhaps these and other tales should be committed to paper by those who knew Harry so that future members of DAS will appreciate the efforts and dedication of early members like Harry in making a Society that has survived almost 60 years.
Ken Kennedy, December 2014.
On the election Of Harry Ford to the post of Honorary Vice President
Click image, right, to view a slideshow featuring Harry Ford