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Margaret Russell Edmondson (1914-1999)


Margaret Russell Edmondson, the youngest of the four children of Henry Norris Russell and Lucy May (Cole) Russell, shared a close intellectual rapport with her distinguished astronomer father, one which would shape her intellectual development throughout her life. The Russell family spent the summer of 1934 at Lowell Observatory, where Margaret met a young staff assistant, Frank K. Edmondson, who was at the observatory photographing portions of the sky as a follow up to Clyde Tombaugh's discovery of Pluto. That summer they fell in love and were married the following fall, securing Margaret's lifelong connection to astronomy. In time, she and Frank settled in Bloomington, Indiana where he became Professor of Astronomy and Chair of the Department of Astronomy. Margaret was a true friend to those of us who spent time at Indiana over the years, whether as students, postdocs, or faculty members.

Frank and Margaret were an inseparable pair, and a regular feature at meetings of the AAS, the IAU, the AURA Board of Directors, and many other astronomical events. She often would attend portions of a meeting while Frank attended another, later filling him in on what she had learned. Frank often told us that her knowledge and understanding equaled that of many of his colleagues. Her long-term involvement with the AAS and her generosity to the Society were fittingly recognized when the AAS Council voted in May 1999 to name her posthumously a Patron of the American Astronomical Society.

Although the current generation of astronomers knew Margaret primarily as Frank's constant companion and helpmate, she was a woman of considerable intellectual and academic accomplishments in her own right. At Indiana University she earned degrees in zoology: an AB with high honors (1943) and an MA in genetics (1947). Elected to both Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi there, she did research in genetics in the laboratory of Nobel Laureate Professor Herman Muller. A fellow graduate student was James D. Watson, who later went on to share the 1962 Nobel Prize for discovering the double-helix structure of DNA, with Francis Crick. Margaret completed all of the course work required for a doctorate, but did not write a dissertation because of time spent in Princeton caring for her mother in her latter years.

An Asteroid, 1955 SG1, number 4300, was named Marg Edmondson in her memory (Minor Planet Circular 34620).

The accompanying photograph was taken at the Russell Lecture delivered on June 9, 1997 by A. G. W. Cameron at the AAS meeting in Winston Salem, N.C. This was the last of the many astronomical meetings to which Margaret accompanied Frank.

Photo by Richard Dreiser, courtesy of the American Astronomical Society.

Obituary written by: Arlo Landolt (Louisiana State University), Robert W. Milkey (American Astronomical Society)

BAAS Citation: BAAS, 1999, 31, 1596

SAO/NASA ADS Bibcode: 1999BAAS...31.1596L