Day 17: Sidney N. Stone

Oct 16, 2011 | 0 comments

Day 17: Sidney N. Stone

The amazing obituary for Sidney N. Stone, and the setting for the memorial service at the German American Club, spoke volumes about the man. The obit, written by daughter Susan, covered many things, and there was still so much more to celebrate at this most unique event.

This was the obituary:

Long-time resident of Los Alamos, Sidney N. Stone, died surrounded by his family on July 9, 2011 at the age of 89. Sidney was born in Syracuse, NY. He built his first telescope at age 11, grinding his own mirrors.

While studying Astrophysics at Cal Tech, he became friends with well-known astronomer Edwin P. Hubble, who helped place him as a ballistician and optical physicist at the Ballistic Research Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, MD from 1944-1950. During this time he pioneered the early optical tracking instrumentation at White Sands Proving Grounds, NM. After the war, he attended the University of California at Berkeley, earning his BS, MS, and PhD in Astrophysics. While at UC Berkeley, he met Marcia McClain, whom he married in 1951.

In 1957, Sidney accepted a position at Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory in Los Alamos, NM, where he participated in nuclear weapons testing experiments at the Nevada Test Site and the Pacific Proving Grounds at Johnston Island. He also participated in airborne solar eclipse expeditions in the Pacific in 1965 and North Central Africa in 1973, and he participated in rocket-borne X-ray astronomy experiments at White Sands Missile Range in 1982.

He was a member of NM Governor’s Scientific Advisory Committee from 1962-1967, as well as a founding member of the Los Alamos Committee on Arms Control and International Security. One of his last projects was lost aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

While living in Los Alamos, he and Marcia became charter members of the Unitarian Church there. Sidney was an active folk dancer, skier, and tennis player, often winning the #1 ranking in New Mexico for his age group. Sidney retired from the Los Alamos Laboratory in 1985, and he and Marcia moved to Albuquerque in 1990, where they were active in many organizations, including Oasis, Friendly Philosophers, Humanist Society of New Mexico, Rio Grande Jazz Society, Albuquerque Little Theatre, New Mexicans for Science and Reason, and the Albuquerque Astronomical Society. They were both honored as Humanists of the Year in New Mexico in 1995.

Sidney and Marcia enjoyed traveling around the world until her death in June 2009 after 58 years of marriage. Sidney is survived by his daughter Susan Stone and her husband, Jeffery Mather, of Savusavu, Fiji Islands, and his younger daughter Wendy Shray, her husband, Steve, and their two children, Aaron and Julia, of San Carlos, CA.

Family friend Ron Herman welcomed everyone and shared some words from Ecclesiastes about a time for every purpose. In a request that is often overlooked at memorial services, he asked everyone to silence or turn off their cell phones.

The setting for this event was the German American Club, home to the Rio Grande Jazz Society. Every Sunday afternoon, Sidney and his wife Marcia would come here to dance. As Marcia’s health failed in later years, she encouraged him to take time off as her tireless caregiver to go dancing at the club. From 1:30 to 5:00 p.m. every Sunday afternoon, Sidney would spin the ladies on the dance floor, always the gentleman, and never sitting out a dance.

Ron said that Sidney discarded the religion of his birth at an early age and became a humanist. A humanist recognizes the serenity to accept the things one cannot change; courage to change those things one can; and wisdom to know the difference. He said humanism provides a way of living a full and meaningful life and looking at death with honesty, dignity and calm. After a few moments of silence, he reviewed some of the highlights of Sidney’s life and career.

The Larry Phillips Quartet played music before, during and after the service. Songs included “Sentimental Journey” “As Time Goes By” “Stairway to the Stars” “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and “Stardust Memories.” The music provided a perfect background to the family photos projected on a screen throughout the event.

Daughter Susan, who lives in Fiji, put on a special colorful vest that her dad wore to special events at the German American Club. She said, “He was such a vibrant and active guy, and we fully expected him to be around for many years to come.”

She shared memories of him teaching her how to figure skate, conducting star talks about the Milky Way, getting a front row seat at a talk by Carl Sagan, and how proud he was of her pursuing a goal to bring clean water to villages. He was very detail-oriented, had an amazing memory, and was a happy, likeable guy.

He would call her in Fiji, and even though he’d say he’d keep it brief, as it costs 40 cents a minute, he’d report in great detail on how many ladies he’d danced with at the Rio Grande Jazz Society, sometimes as many as 20 over the course of three hours.

Daughter Wendy said, “Even though he was 89, his death was unexpected. He was so vibrant and active during the bat mitzvah weekend for his granddaughter, he danced with all the ladies.” After that busy weekend, he had a stroke that led to his death.

She described her father as happy, cheerful, easy to love, never angry. He was always the optimist who saw the bright side of things. And while he was a mild-mannered guy, he was very competitive in tennis. A roomful of trophies he’d won testified to this description from one of his opponents – that he played with the precision and accuracy he lived his life.

Wendy said she has inherited his same trait for describing events in great detail – to the point that people say, “Get to the point, already.” He was organized and kept a phone log, discovered at his home in Albuquerque: four to five inches of yellow pads that detailed – in his very neat handwriting – the date, time, phone number, name of person and topic discussed. The first date was August 1, 1991 and the last date was June 17, 2011.

She remembered watching comedies, documentaries, and anything on PBS with her dad. He was a lifelong learner and a skier who taught her to ski. He loved jokes, puns and joke books. He was quirky and easy to love. One of his favorite phrases was “I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent.”

Attendees were invited to share their individual stories. Ron Herman ended with part of a reading from Bertrand Russell on How to Grow Old:

An individual human existence should be like a river——small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past boulders and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and – in the end – without any visible break, they become merged in the sea; and painlessly lose their individual being.

A triumphant rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” complete with a line dance with umbrellas, provided an upbeat ending to a wonderful life celebration of a remarkable man. His special vest was given to Ruby Bishop, a favorite dance partner.

Ruby Bishop in Sidney's vest

Sidney’s cremated remains will be scattered in several places, including the ski area at Pajarito Mountain and at various tennis courts around Los Alamos. Some will be mixed with wife Marcia’s remains and scattered at Mount Hood, Oregon, where the family spent many summer vacations. The celebration ended with a reception at the club, to continue the sharing of good memories of Sidney N. Stone. May he rest in peace.

Sidney Stone memorial table

A Good Goodbye